Keene State College student Kya Roumimper set a challenge for her fellow classmates — a challenge many of them said was “impossible.” Roumimper asked students to give themselves a budget of no more than $1.50 to spend on food a day, which, according to the fundraising campaign, Live Below the Line, 1.2 billion people in the world do daily.
Rebecca Hunt, registered dietitian and marketing manager of the Zorn Dining Commons [DC], said Roumimper came to her to see where and how Roumimper could spread her message about poverty in not only the United States, but the world as a whole. Roumimper then created a price list of common food items the DC serves, such as fruit, salad items, pizza and pasta. Shortly after, labels were created and displayed next to these foods for all those entering the DC to see.
After she visited Guatemala, Roumimper said she learned from a tour guide there that, “Every day is a struggle; it’s not like America where you can choose to have a family, choose to have a house. You can either have a house, or feed your family,” as the tour guide shared.
Roumimper said hearing these words from the guide was “heartbreaking” and caused her to think about the issue of poverty and hunger. This was one of the reasons she felt she needed to share a message with KSC. After then hearing about the Live Below the Line campaign, she launched her project. Roumimper said, “When you make that initial choice to eat a hamburger, you don’t think about what it would look like in another country to someone else…that [$1.50] might be an entire day’s worth of food.” She further explained that not only does this happen in foreign countries, but the U.S. as well.
General Manager of Dining Services, Josef Quirinale, pointed out the DC serves about 7,000 meals a day. Those daily meals, according to Quirinale, cost about 18 thousand to 19 thousand dollars. Of that money spent, about $1,200 worth of food is thrown out — “food that is usable, edible, [and] prepared,” he explained.
“I think when a student comes into the dining commons, there isn’t really a perception of purchasing it. They come in to eat what they want and do whatever they want with it,” Quirinale said, but mentioned that when students buy less, they take less from other KSC dining options, such as Lloyd’s Marketplace.
Quirinale explained for students and faculty, entering the dining commons to see prices on these foods can be shocking.
“They pay a good amount of money [for these meal plans],” he said, “but I don’t really think many of them break it down as to what that really means,” Quirinale said.
Robin Matathias, music professor at KSC who also teaches the course titled, Food, Health and Environment, said Roumimper’s project highlights how, “In middle-class America, we really don’t think about being hungry. There are a lot of hungry people in America…what we spend in dollars is not really the real cost and we spend actually much less for a lot of foods than other countries do.” She said Americans can purchase 99-cent hamburgers if they’re on a budget, but “the real cost of that ninety-nine burger is much, much higher,” as it involves using resources like water, energy and human labor. Matathias stated that even in the U.S., most healthy foods are more expensive than a fast-food hamburger. She said for those living on a budget, the best items to purchase are rice, beans and oatmeal. For those who start to learn about the food industry process, Matathias pointed out that students can learn where these meals come from and the total efforts that were made in order for the dish to finally make it to the table. “You’re not just throwing away a burger, you’re throwing away all the process: the water, the pesticides, all the things that went into the land — that’s going in the garbage, too,” Matathias said.
Quirinale and Hunt both stated this waste is part of a cycle that needs to be broken. “We have a tremendous amount of food that is wasted,” Quirinale said. He also stated for KSC students, meal plans are affected by the demand for food. According to Quirinale, if students waste less, they then demand less — allowing for lower-priced meals. With 116 days in a semester, according to Quirinale, three meals a day amounts to $5.10 a meal at the dining commons. This amount of money not only goes into the items on the plates directly, electricity and people’s wages — but into the wasted scraps, fruits and full pizza slices that are thrown out.
Hunt pointed out that, “We all eat, so every individual has a role, [and] can have an impact.” She said though there’s been a significant decrease in plate waste at the DC, she hopes the trend only continues. Quirinale said the cycle of poverty, food pricing and waste has, “gotten way out of hand,” but added, “If we could cut down on our usage, then maybe we could actually cut down on the costs, and maybe then food would be more affordable.”
Brittany Ballantyne can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org