Access and Equity Food Equity
Setting the table
Loyola students and faculty take a multifaceted approach to ensure every community has equal access to healthy foods
It's 5 p.m. on a Monday, and Chelsea Denault isn't headed home to a nap and Netflix binge. Instead, she’s going to wrangle tents and park food trucks. This week, someone accidentally parked in the gelato truck’s spot, which would be trouble if Denault didn’t use her booming voice while standing on a nearby table to locate the owner. It’s now 5:05.
Denault is the manager of the Loyola Farmer’s Market, an initiative created by the School of Environmental Sustainablity (SES) students that increases access to fresh foods in the Rogers Park area during their June through October season. Prior to its creation in 2011, some of Chicago’s northernmost residents struggled to access balanced options for prices they could afford. Now, they shop selections from over 10 local farmers and businesses, accompanied by live music beneath the hum of the Red Line. The market has changed the landscape of the North Side, and Loyola isn’t stopping there. As an institution with roots that spread through Chicago and the surrounding communities, Loyola’s efforts toward food equity are becoming just as expansive.
Food equity is a threefold issue, only achieved when all communities have the same access to fresh, healthy food that appeals to them, is affordable, and is at a distance they can travel. In Chicago, the areas and people that are most food insecure are always those with the lowest income.
“Our market has two missions in terms of food equity that contribute to the area,” says Denault. “The first is to provide access to healthy, local food to our community members. And the second is to create a safe and welcoming space regardless of whether they are customers or not.”
The market partners with the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which provides each certified customer a state-issued Link card. Link acts as a debit card, allowing SNAP recipients to make purchases and receive benefits through a regular transaction. At the Loyola Farmer’s Market, Link holders can receive up to $25 in benefits to spend on produce once they purchase up to $25 worth of market goods. This money can be used at any SNAP certified market in the state, but Denault has bigger plans to bring Loyola’s market to the next level.
“I would love to be able to triple match. I would love that,” she says. “There are some markets in the area that are so well funded and supported that they’re able to provide another match on top of the match that Link provides. We could provide our customers with so much that way, not just produce but bread, plants, full meals.”
About 20 miles West, other lofty goals are also being made and achieved. Joanne Kouba, an associate professor in the Parkinson School of Health Sciences and Public Health and director of the Dietetics Education program at Loyola’s Health Sciences Campus in Maywood, Illinois, has a unique project to help her students understand food equity. Every year, Kouba’s students spread out into the Maywood area, armed with copies of a grocery list from the USDA’s food security toolkit. The list contains everything a family would need to properly feed themselves in a healthy and fulfilling way. The students are rarely able to find all the items on the list, even by piecing together gas station and convenience store items. Many were shocked to find that the last grocery store in town, an Aldi, closed down in 2016, which is why Kouba helped to develop partnerships with Provisio Health, local gardens, and Loyola Family Medicine Clinic.
“Right now about 30 to 40 families a week get a bag that has up to 10 pounds of fresh produce in it. And it’s seasonal,” says Kouba. “The food in these bags will help prevent and mitigate the diseases and conditions we see from people in this area which is not aided by the lack of healthy food.”
The fight to end food disparity, however, doesn’t just happen in SES or health sciences—on the business side, John Caltagirone has found a way for Loyola students to fight the good fight. Caltagirone, founding director of the Loyola Business Leadership Hub in the Quinlan School of Business, started the Urban Social Benefit Incubator in 2016. The students who work on incubator projects are recruited to give business advice to nonprofits or companies that benefit their communities. According to Caltagirone, the big idea behind a business is important, but learning how to stay afloat in an industry is crucial.
“I see it all the time,” he says. “People have this idea and they want to help others but they’re not able to pull off the financials and the planning behind it. That’s where we come in.”
Students have gone on to drive the logistics behind many nonprofits, grocery stores, and unique initiatives, including student-led project to build a free grocery store on Chicago’s West Side using food donations and surplus from companies. The Urban Social Benefit Incubator also assisted the Northern Illinois Food Bank in designing an online shopping and pick-up system that increased access and privacy for their clients.
From the multiple faculty and schools helping to close the gap in food access and equity in the community, students have rallied to help their peers in precarious positions as well. As a student, it is very difficult to receive food stamps, access to food drives and kitchens, and the time required to prepare meals. This plight was recognized by commuter students and soon became the focus of the commuter life student committee, who brought Iggy’s Cupboard to life at Loyola Chicago. The food bank operates in complete confidentiality. Not even those who run it know the names of the students who utilize it. Student can fill out a form online where they choose what items they need and a time to pick up their food, all under a nickname.
“Something that was especially exciting to see, for me, was that we showed some students that they were food insecure themselves,” says Dang Nguyen Kevin Dang, a commuter ambassador. “They were coming to us and saying that they had no idea their situation wasn’t common.”
The financial inequity that fuels food disparity isn’t lost on Loyola’s movers and shakers in the field. Kelly Moore, associate professor of Sociology at Loyola, fights for increased access to food through her involvement in the FightFor15 movement, a group trying to raise Chicago’s minimum wage to $15 per hour. Her approach to food equity addresses the systemic, long-term problems surrounding the issue. While nutrition counseling and community gardening are popular and helpful solutions, Moore argues that this is still asking people to work for what she considers a human right.
“There’ve been studies about it, truly. You enable people’s power of choice and their right to decide what they want to feed their families by giving them the money to do so,” says Moore. “Food isn’t just as simple as ‘Oh, here have a can of soup that someone dug out of their cupboards.’ It’s culturally important.”