Cornell is well-integrated into the Ithaca community, with Collegetown within walking distance and the Ithaca Commons and commercial zones a bus ride away. Despite this, many students on campus cite a lack of convenient and affordable grocery options near campus—-and the ensuing high costs.
Students on campus can find Anabel’s Grocery, located in Anabel Taylor Hall, which offers locally sourced, fresh produce “at or below Wegmans prices,” according to their website. However, the student-run grocery store has limited purchasing power and therefore cannot provide the fullest selection of food. Instead, they offer mostly plant-based whole foods, as well as a subscription service for cookware, citing a lack of fresh food in a college diet.
Aside from Anabel’s, there are two Aldi locations, a Wegmans location, a Trader Joe’s location, a Tops location and two GreenStar locations in Ithaca. However, with the exception of the Collegetown GreenStar — a small grocery store that exclusively sells organic food, which comes at higher rates than non-organic options — there is no grocery store within reasonable walking distance near campus for the many students in Ithaca without cars.
According to Google Maps, the nearest grocery store from campus by bus is Tops, accessible by TCAT’s Route 30, which has been experiencing service cuts due to staffing shortages and supply chain issues, as well as taking detours due to the repaving of College Avenue, resulting in the new route not serving the heart of Collegetown. Traveling to Wegmans or Trader Joe’s by public transit requires taking the Route 15 bus, which only runs once an hour on weekdays; according to Google Maps, the fastest route to Wegmans still takes roughly half an hour.
The price of groceries in Ithaca is 0.8 percent higher than New York State’s average and 4.6 percent higher than the national average, even though BestPlaces.net considers Ithaca’s total cost of living to be 1.6 percent below the national average and 23.1 percent less than New York State’s average. New York State’s average prices also take into account the extreme outlier of New York City, which is significantly pricier than both the rest of New York State and the country.
According to the results from a survey conducted by Basic Needs Coalition — a student-run organization advocating for greater access to basic necessities at Cornell — one-third of Cornell students have difficulty accessing food.
Katie Go ’22, an employee at Anabel’s Grocery, said that food access was difficult for her without a car.
“Especially when I lived in Collegetown, the only supermarkets really were GreenStar or 7-Eleven, and those were definitely more expensive than Wegmans or Walmart, which is harder to access without a car,” Go said. “I found that oftentimes, I would just end up ordering from Collegetown’s cheaper options rather than try to cook myself more nutritious meals because the prices would actually turn out to be the same when you purchase from Collegetown.”
Alexandra Michael ’23 echoed Go’s sentiment that not having a car contributes to difficult access to food.
“My roommate and I didn’t go grocery shopping for three weeks because we don’t have a car,” Michael said. “Not having a car or reliable transportation, since TCAT is kind of unpredictable, was the biggest factor in that.”
Go added that data obtained by Anabel’s indicated that the time commitment to buy groceries given the distance also was a factor, but that Anabel’s could serve as an alternative, increasing operating capacity as it does so. She said that Anabel’s Grocery is not exclusively for Cornellians who identify as food insecure but for anyone who can be aided by minimal travel.
“A lot of students stated that time is also one of the constraints in addition to transportation. It’s really hard for them to go grocery shopping even if they had a friend with a car because they’re dependent on their friend’s time, and that’s a limiting factor already as a student at Cornell with so much to be balanced,” Go said. “We hope that Anabel’s can offer that alternative by being on campus.”