“Networking Hunger” screening and panel connects college, community and food security

Danielle Kraidin

“Networking Hunger,” Megan Schmidt’s ’17 senior capstone, explores food insecurity in Easton and highlights those working to address the issue. The “low income community [she] grew up in” inspired her to explore this topic.

“Coming to college, I was a volunteer at Third Street [Alliance]. By my senior year, I reflected on all of my experiences and explored my concerns. I hoped to produce something useful [in which] I could teach people. After watching, you know a lot more about it than if you just read a 50-page paper,” Schmidt said.

“I got to learn more about the organizations. I learned that many people were working on it and coordinating it. I also learned that networking everyone together is difficult,” she added.

The film was shown on Wednesday as part of Earth Week. It began with defining food insecurity as “not being confident you will have food and not knowing where your next meal is coming from.” According to the video, out of 9,400 students in the Easton area, around 5,000 students receive free lunches.

In another part of the film, Schmidt focused on the various ways to address hunger such as food surpluses, increasing food access and nutrition education.

According to the video, “40% of food in the United States goes to waste, so there is so much room to be creative and entrepreneurial, and there are many excited and passionate people trying to transform that into action.” This gives volunteers the opportunity to take extra food and donate it to those in need.

Food access is another area of concern—23.5 million Americans live in food deserts, which is a “place where there’s a limited number of food locations and places with access to fresh fruits and vegetables,” according to Schmidt’s video. 

Following the 17-minute video, there was a panel discussion composed of a variety of students, professors, residents and community activists.

Engineering professor Benjamin Cohen began the discussion by asking how each of them came to be involved with addressing the issue of hunger.

Panelist Jennifer Giovanniello ‘20 said she approached these issues as “an environmentalist.”

“I wanted to improve current food systems to see how to make it more sustainable. Not only can we address hunger, but also food and security and providing food to people,” she said.

Another student panelist, Emma Stierhoff ’20, also approached food justice as an environmental issue. “I found the desire to help both the environment and people—I didn’t realize I could help with both. I learned the bridge between social and environmental issues, [which] allowed me to [combine] two issues that I wanted to bring together,” she said.

Cohen also asked what words the panelists would attach food to, including “poverty, justice [and] security.”

Rachel Hogan Carr, advisory council member for the Easton Hunger Coalition and leadership team member for the Easton Heart and Soul initiative, shared that she would pair the words “food [and] justice.”

“If life were to go the way I’d want it to, there’d be community-based initiatives rather than individual ones. Food access becomes the job of an entire community. [You need to] run a community to make sure there is food,” Carr said.

Sustainability Fellow Miranda Wilcha ’16 shared her experience with finding food as a resident of Easton.

“I live in downtown Easton and I find an issue with getting food. I had to deal with what people do every day when I didn’t have my car. It’d be difficult for a whole family. I know the issue, the people, and I know the location pretty well for being a part of this for years, and I care deeply for people who care about this issue,” Wilcha said. 

Nancy Walters, leader of the Easton Hunger Coalition, believes food respect is an important choice. “If food is a basic human right, we should all eat in a healthy way. My interest is not just hunger, but also a fair system,” Walters said. 

When asked what they would do if they were mayor of Easton, Walters answered by saying that “in this world of nonprofits and hunger, people put a lot of work on volunteers. We want to create jobs in the corporate structure. While volunteers are great, we need to talk about how volunteers are the support, not the leaders. A grocery store should have a food recovery specialist, which would not be meant for volunteers.”

Kyle Low ‘20 said he “thought it was cool to have people from all walks of food justice in addressing the issue and not just students or people working in Easton. It was interesting to see that everyone had a different answer for a similar issue and it was nice to see everything come together.”