Summer semester begins today.
Last week, I finished my syllabi and over the weekend printed class handouts; the types of activities one would expect from a professor who wanted to be prepared for the new semester. However, I also restocked the freezer in my office refrigerator with microwavable meals which I will not eat and made sure I had enough apples to last the week. Snack foods that I buy at Gordon’s or that my husband finds in the discount bins in the local grocery store were replenished.
Since I have had my own office, making it a welcoming environment has been important to me. There is original art on the walls and sculptures on the shelves. There are plants inside the office and a large terrarium outside my door. Sharing food was a foundation of my Polish Catholic upbringing, but having an abundance of food in my office has become an increasingly important part of my pedagogy.
A few months ago, a student did a “grab and go” between classes to pick up a bag of chips. As the student left, I realized that they had not simply picked up a snack, they had picked up their lunch. It then occurred to me that this was not the only student who periodically counted on me for much needed food.
Even though my husband includes extra food for me to share with students when he packs my lunch each morning, the next time I went to the supermarket after the grab and go, I brought the frozen meals to insure that there would always be food on hand for students. A week later, when the first student ate one of the microwaved meals, I realized that it was likely their only hot meal of the day.
Most of the students with whom I share food do not experience food insecurity, but some of them do. And because there is no way to identify students with food insecurity, I let everyone know about my husband’s yummy lunches and say he packs enough for me share. At other times, I find ways to mention that I always have food in my office. For example, on the way to campus today, I picked up donuts for my first class and office food will be mentioned as students enjoy them.
I know that I speak from a privileged position when I write about the office food pantry. I am a full-time tenured professor with his own office who has enough income to purchase extra food. I am aware that adjunct faculty frequently do not have offices and their salaries are such that they might be visiting food pantries themselves. Furthermore, I am not arguing that faculty members should provide food for students. I am suggesting that those of us who have that ability might consider what we can do on an individual level.
Making one’s office into a mini food pantry, at worse, promotes a welcoming environment that encourages students to visit. But for students who are food insecure, having food in my office allows me to provide physical sustenance as well as intellectual stimulation.
- –Steven L. Berg, PhD
Photo Credit: Malus domestica Borkh. from O.M. Braida’s Fruit of the Gods, 1795.