(08/22/22) BATON ROUGE, La. — Nearly one-third of college students are likely to face food insecurity in some capacity. International students are a population most likely to be affected.
Two graduate students in the LSU School of Nutrition and Food Sciences have taken notice of food insecurity among international students and are looking to make an impact on LSU.
Nila Pradhananga and Kritee Niroula are international students originally from Nepal who are pursuing their doctorates in nutrition and food sciences. Their connection to nutrition and personal experiences led them to pursue a diversity mini grant offered through the LSU Office of the Vice President for Agriculture.
The diversity mini grant program provides financial assistance to LSU AgCenter and College of Agriculture faculty, staff and students wanting to implement projects that promote the value of diversity.
Pradhananga said the pandemic heightened issues international students faced and inspired the pair to look into barriers for the international population.
"When COVID hit, there were a lot of different things international students were experiencing and more problems that were focused on food," said Pradhananga. "When the grant came in, we wanted to explore what barriers there are to resources on campus and why they aren't being used by international students."
During the pandemic, there was a spike in students reporting food insecurity, especially international students, but not much data that solely focused on food insecurity among that population.
"It's hard to leave your family, come here, and then you have to worry about food,” she said. “That's a very known issue, but it hasn't been explored a lot."
After conducting initial tests, they identified several themes emerging among international students. Often there is not a lack of resources for students but a lack of knowledge about those resources.
"Connecting people to food is the solution that we are looking at," Pradhananga said.
LSU offers many initiatives to combat food insecurity on campus, such as the LSU Food Pantry, but many international students still struggle to obtain these resources.
Often international students are unaware of existing resources within their university and surrounding community. A possible recommendation this study explores is offering a mentorship program for international students to connect them with local students who may help them overcome issues.
Pradhananga shared a personal barrier she faced when coming to the U.S. in 2015, including a lack of exposure to certain canned foods. Learning how to prepare and use these foods could alleviate some food insecurity.
The survey for the study will launch in the fall of 2022, and they will also collect qualitative data.
Their study will contribute to the literature in the area of food insecurity and help establish solutions to relieve this issue across the country.
In addition to the food security study, the diversity mini grant program supported three other projects for this funding cycle. These grants are for small-scale initiatives within the LSU AgCenter and College of Agriculture.
Kritee Niroula, left, and Nila Pradhananga received a diversity mini grant from the LSU Office of the Vice President for Agriculture to study food insecurity among international students. Photo by Annabelle Lang/LSU AgCenter