13.2% of all D.C. residents are food insecure (DC Hunger). Food insecurity is not only a lack of access to food, but also to nutritious, affordable foods. Food insecurity and hunger are prevalent health and social problems in locally, nationally, and globally, and an issue I am extremely passionate about. Though I’ve spent my college career learning about the social and cultural roots of hunger, there was only so much of the lived experiences of those suffering from food insecurity I could understand through my nearly unlimited access to TDR and its bottomless, fresh salad bar and vegetables—whether I utilized all the healthy food or strictly went for Mac and Cheese Wednesdays is a different story. Whatever I chose to eat, I always had the options for healthy, nutritious, fresh foods. I wanted to get out in the community, help those dealing with food insecurity, and try to understand how larger structural and cultural forces shape how these communities access nutritional food. Especially being an anthropology major, connecting with the communities rather than just learning about them in books or articles is extremely important to understanding the larger issues.
Luckily enough, American University offers the Community Service Learning Program (CLSP). Through CSLP, I paired one of my courses, ANTH-421: Health Geographies, and a local nonprofit, Bread for the City (BftC) in the Shaw neighborhood of D.C., with the goal of connecting how place of residence can impact food access. At Bread for the City, I mainly do administrative work, like scanning and uploading documents and adding new volunteer contacts to the SalesForce data. Though my administrative work might not seem to directly help those in need, it frees up time for the actual staff to work with the community. More recently, I had the opportunity to join the BftC team in their SouthEast facility in the last farmer’s market of the year, where we gave out free bags of potatoes, onions, sweet potatoes, and cabbage. I have also started working the food pantry at the Shaw facility, where I bagged 6 cans of vegetables with rice and a meat.
I didn’t have many expectations going in, but I have been extremely grateful for this experience. I’ve been able to get out of the AU-Tenleytown bubble, see a new part of D.C., and help out those in need. The Community Service Learning Program also allowed me to connect a local neighborhood, like Shaw, with the spatial theories I learn in my Health Geographies class, like how one’s residence can influence one’s health from access to grocery stores and public transportation to social support within the community. As a volunteer with Bread for the City, I’m able to ensure people receive healthy, nutritious food, but it also gives me the opportunity to understand how nonprofits fight hunger and the needs of the community that can let me work towards solutions that will end food insecurity at the structural level.
DC Hunger. “Facts on Hunger.” 2016. Online http://www.dchunger.org/about/facts.html