Food insecurity has been a rising concern on college campuses in recent years, and the University of California at Berkeley is no exception. A 2018 survey conducted by UC Berkeley showed that 39% of undergraduates and 23% of graduate students experience food insecurity. The number was higher for underrepresented minorities, LGBTQ+, and students without family support. (source Berkeley Food Institute). With the current rate of inflation on food and the strength of the US dollar's impact on international students, we expect these numbers to increase this year.
As the Executive Director of International House, I wanted to end food insecurity within our community. Working with our Director of Hospitality, Cedric Martin, we challenged the 'limited meal swipe' policy which meant each resident having 12 meals per week (211 in a term). It is a simple reality that our residents need to eat more than 12 times a week in order to sustain a healthy diet.
This previous policy is based on an assumption that our residents have the resources to eat their 'other' meals elsewhere. While true for some, we know this is not always the case. We estimate that 30%+ of our residents rely on International House as their only food source.
Limiting swipes below what is needed for a healthy diet also leads to hoarding, gorging, fasting, skipping "low-value" meals (breakfast), and other unhealthy eating habits. It also leads to the social stigma of having to ask other residents for help when they run out of meal swipes.
This year we reinstated a policy that current residents are entitled to one swipe for every meal service we offer in the Dining Commons for the entirety of their stay. Essentially, if they are hungry, residents may enjoy as much, or as little, of our "all you care to eat" at each of the 19 weekly meals served at I-House.
The trade-off? Swipes are non-transferable and all guests must pay the door rate. We still welcome guests to join us in our Dining Commons where all of our residents have a seat at the table.
I am proud to say that International House at UC Berkeley has ended food insecurity for its 582 residents from 69 nationalities, including the US. We also have the reputation for the best food around campus!
An email from one of our residents sums it up:
"I just wanted to say that I really appreciate the good work you and the admins at I-House are doing and that I feel fortunate to be part of a community that cares and looks out for all our members. Not having guest swipes is definitely a price I am willing to pay to be in a more equitable community."
Also, thank you to our executive chef Marie Abigail Serbins and her incredible team of sous chefs and cooks, the front-of-house staff, and student workers who make this all happen.
Visit ihouse.berkeley.edu/menu for the weekly menu, hours, and guest meal prices.