According to the USDA, Stony Brook University is home to several thousand of the 23 million Americans residing in the food deserts identified by First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign.
The USDA defines a food desert as “a low-income census tract where a substantial number or share of residents has low access to a supermarket or large grocery store”
As seen on the Food Desert Locator on the US Department of Agriculture website, all of the Stony Brook University campus is considered a food desert. By contrast, only one other SUNY university center, the University at Albany, has a campus even partially designated a food desert.
Stony Brook students do have some access to local supermarkets through both university and county buses, but food desert status only takes into account how close stores are, not whether it’s possible to get to them.
Despite Stony Brook’s unique food desert status among SUNY university centers, this is not an uncommon problem nationwide, according to USDA economist Shelly Ver Ploeg. The University of Michigan and the University of Maryland have also been listed as food deserts.
“The situation on college campuses is a little different,” said Ver Ploeg, noting that the guidelines meant for the general population may not always be adaptable to colleges.
For example, she said, the placement of academic buildings, lawns, stadiums, and other general features of college campuses tends to “inflate” the distances used by the USDA to determine the distance from residences to supermarkets and large grocery stores.
University spokeswoman Lauren Sheprow echoed these statements.
“The methodology of USDA also does not take into account the fact that most students at a residential University, such as Stony Brook, are on a meal plan and that freshly prepared meals are available 7 days a week, 20 hours a day on the Stony Brook campus,” Sheprow stated in an email.
Sheprow also noted that Campus Dining encourages students to “eat healthy” and provides free nutritional counseling from a dietician.
However, Sheprow did not respond to questions about Stony Brook’s status as the only SUNY university center for which the entire campus is a food desert.
Requests for comment from Campus Dining representatives were not returned.
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