Sociology students present research on student food insecurity

Minnesota State students without cars can be disadvantaged when it comes to food access. There are options available that do not require a car such as the city bus system and the Maverick Food Pantry, but a group of sociology students argues that the city and university need to improve these systems because those without transportation are still marginalized. They conducted research on the Mankato bus system and its flaws regarding access to groceries and presented their findings Nov. 17. 

The group consisted of Ava Corey-Gruenes, Ashley Jaxel, Jose Felipe Ozuna, Ashley Hoehn, Mitchel Pomije, Kailey Van Riper and Enettie Malangano following an introduction from Carol Glasser. Attendees were mostly student senators and sociology faculty among others.

Van Riper, who was part of the group’s research team, noted that there is “very limited” research on the link between food insecurity and transportation access, but a 2018 study cited in their promotional poster revealed 64% of MSU students “experienced some sort of food insecurity” and some said lack of adequate transportation made it difficult to obtain basic necessities. MSU created a food pantry on campus after the study, but other universities have implemented additional, long-term solutions such as grocery shuttles with frequent departures.

The Mankato Transit System has eight bus lines affiliated with MSU and grants free rides to students who present their Mavcard. There are no official plans to add new bus lines or routes, but there is a discussion to install more bus shelters.

The researching students each got groceries from different nearby stores by bus, walking or delivery, and bought a similar list of groceries. Corey-Gruenes took bus route six to Aldi on Madison Ave. and bought three full bags of items. 

Her total trip was about two and a half hours–her total time shopping was twenty minutes.

The time spent can pose a risk to temperature-sensitive items. The standard limit for a refrigerated food item to be out of 40 degrees or lower temperature is two hours, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, because dangerous bacteria can form outside the safe temperature range.

In theory, according to the group, the solution to this problem would be to have groceries delivered—and pay extra delivery fees and gratuity—or to shop at Kwik Trip near campus. However, gas stations’ limited food options pose problems for many people, such as those with dietary restrictions or who want diverse options.

“Administrators say ‘Oh, just go to Kwik Trip for your groceries,’ but for someone who is vegan or needs ethnically sensitive food, or someone who isn’t satisfied with eating mac and cheese all the time, it’s a problem,” Corey-Gruenes said.

Corey-Gruenes did not have much difficulty carrying her shopping bags on the bus, as she had two and a backpack, but one issue she ran into was the walk. Aldi is not one of route six’s stops, so she and anyone else needing to get off in an area the bus passes must walk to their destination from wherever the bus can stop. They then must remember the time and place to be picked up again or walk to another official stop where they know for certain they will be picked up again. 

“This is a doable walk but if I had kids or a disability this would be hard,” Gruenes said.

The findings noted that it takes about two weeks to become familiar with the bus system. Familiarization includes trial and error, which takes time that many college students do not have.

Jose Felipe Ozuna had this experience on his bus trip. His assigned store was Cub Foods, which required him to do a bus transfer midway through the trip and he ended up missing the second bus due to an inaccurate pickup time online and a lack of experience with the downtown area.

“At this point I was upset, angry and tired. It would be another hour until the bus came again and I could go and buy groceries, so I just decided to catch the next bus home. It was a waste of time. This was so demoralizing. As a senior with a full schedule and a job outside of class, this hour of my time was wasted due to a lack of familiarity with a certain bus route and partly due to inaccurate information from Google Maps. The frustrations around utilizing these services might also be a barrier to accessing healthy options at grocery stores,” Felipe Ozuna said.

The group stated lack of access to food is a retention issue for the university, as students without cars are limited in their housing options and can struggle to budget their time to acquire groceries.

“Access to food and to transportation is essential in providing for student success. Not only within college but after college in terms of performance in school, graduation rates and opportunities after college. People need to have their needs met,” Corey-Gruenes said. “I urge anyone with any influence over this issue to take into consideration these suggestions and implement them so that everyone at MSU has access to resources.”

Header photo: Sociology students presented how food insecurity affects students on campus despite several bus routes that are available. (Carly Bahr/The Reporter)

Write to Carly Bahr at

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