November 15, 2015

LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Why Anabel’s Is the Answer

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To the Editor:

Re: “Editorial: The Best Solution Against Food Insecurity?,” Opinion, Nov. 12.

Over the past few months, the Anabel’s Grocery team has received many questions about whether students are capable of operating a grocery store or if a store is even the best solution to address food insecurity. Our first mistake may have been calling ourselves a grocery store. Framing ourselves instead as a food collective would better reflect our motive: to use Cornell’s resources to comprehensively address food security. While there’s no single solution to this problem, we’re confident that this store and its complementary programming will create a collective shift in our outlook on food at Cornell.

Amid the politics around the store and other potential solutions, we’re afraid the meaning of the term “food insecurity” is becoming stale and forgotten. Food insecurity has three components — food availability, resources for food access and appropriate knowledge for food use — and thus far our store and its programming address these three components in the most holistic way.

A grocery store enables food to be consistently available, unlike a food pantry that has a severely limited product mix day-to-day. Anabel’s would remain open for shorter winter and fall breaks to provide students an option for food while other campus eateries close down and area grocery stores are difficult to access. For Thanksgiving, summer and winter breaks, we will work with resource centers and the program houses to develop innovative solutions to ensure food is available to students who remain on campus.

Other proposed solutions are admirable but insufficient for Cornell. At Columbia University, students can donate up to six unused meal swipes to an Emergency Meal Fund per semester, and students in need can receive up to six meal vouchers. The Swipes app matches meal-requesting “Receivers” with “Swipers” when in the same dining hall. Students in “need” must meet in person with the person swiping them into the dining hall, which could stigmatize the student receiving the swipe and lacks consistent availability. At Columbia, this program has led to meal plan price increases; something we assume would not be received well at Cornell.

While subsidies to current food options could make food more accessible, Cornell Dining lacks the funds to give 10 percent subsidies on Big Red Bucks. Instead of subsidizing already expensive food (i.e., a $9.68 salad), it is more efficient to subsidize the price of already inexpensive food — so that a student can buy bulk ingredients for an entire week of meals versus a couple meals worth of BRBs. Similarly, the GreenStar FLOWER program provides a 15 percent discount on prices that are typically unaffordable for college students. While we commend the program and believe having GreenStar in Collegetown will positively impact the Cornell foodscape, the truth is that we need both Anabel’s and GreenStar. Together, our different price points, product offerings, and future collaborations on programming will provide the most benefit to students.

On Nov. 5, the Student Assembly approved using $320,000 from the Students Helping Students Fund (SHS) for Anabel’s Grocery. We’re projected to spend $130,000 on renovations, which we agree is no small chunk of change. Yet this one-time allocation is relatively low for what it will bring to campus  — which calls into question our priorities. We are spending once on renovations half of what is spent on Slope Day every year. Inaccurate models say that the SHS Fund will be unsustainable afterwards, but in reality funding Anabel’s Grocery will leave the SHS Fund with ample money to continue funding emergency grants and summer internships at the same or higher rates. Importantly, funding Anabel’s Grocery to benefit all Cornell students without hindering the fund’s ability to provide a few students with important financial assistance represents a paradigm shift for Cornell.

The Daily Sun has called Anabel’s “the best plan put forward thus far” to address food insecurity at Cornell. Qualifying this designation with concerns over whether food insecure students will shop here dismisses the expertise of Cornell faculty who work with food insecure students and support Anabel’s. It also disregards the testimonials of food insecure students who see Anabel’s as the solution to their struggle for food security. Research indicates that hundreds of food insecure and non-food insecure students would shop at Anabel’s. In a recent randomized survey of 135 undergraduates, Cornell’s Social Business Consulting group reports that 98 percent of respondents said they would shop at Anabel’s, of which 88 percent said that they would shop there at least once a month.

Concerns over the store’s location in Anabel Taylor Hall and our product mix have been taken seriously since the project’s inception. We are in discussion with student organizations that utilize Anabel Taylor to discuss their concerns over dietary needs and the store’s location. Last semester, Cornell United Religious Works and its religiously diverse cadre of chaplains voted to allow the store use space in Anabel Taylor Hall under the principle that the store’s mission aligns with the humanitarian values of many faiths.

While Anabel’s Grocery is not the only solution to food insecurity, no other viable solutions have been proposed that effectively address food access, food insecurity, and food education. If we can agree that food insecurity and affordability are urgent problems, we must be willing to invest capital, time, and thorough thought into finding solutions to these issues.

Lizzi Gorman ’18

Emma Johnston ’16

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