Ninth Annual Fairbanks Symposium Held to Offer Information About Food Insecurity in the Indy Area

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The University of Indianapolis, partnered with Indiana Humanities, held the ninth annual Richard M. Fairbanks Symposium, an event hosting various conversations over equitable processes in producing, distributing and consuming food in Indianapolis. Receiving an endowment from the Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation, this annual event is held over a topic related to civic leadership and changes topics each year, according to Professor of History, Chair of the Department of History and Political Science and Director of the Institute for Civic Leadership and Mayoral Archives Edward Frantz. The topics of food, food inequality, food access and food sovereignty was picked this year because they wanted something new and something those throughout the university and community could relate to, Frantz said.

“If you’re talking about it from an undergraduate perspective, … whether you were a senior and whatever, you wouldn’t have had the benefit of seeing each [symposium],” Frantz said. “But we’d like to try to keep the themes new and fresh and different because some of the community partners or some of the attendees … we want to make sure that we’re not replicating that which we’ve already done.”

According to Frantz, there were three different panelists and a lunch event that discussed various topics during the symposium He said while he was not an expert within food inequality, he learned about it while preparing for and attending the event.

“I heard a lot of the panelists talk about, for instance, something called the idea of food sovereignty and the idea that food should be something that you have, individuals should have, rights and responsibilities when it comes to their access to food,” Frantz said. “And also what they talked about was culturally relevant food, … I’m gonna guess that’s not something that was part of their education, either informally through family networks or formally in school, and I think that was really eye opening and refreshing.”

Being the second symposium held post-pandemic, Frantz said working with community partners was even more important. Additionally, a collaboration with UIndy Dining Services served as a significant bridge between the conversations and the relevance to UIndy, Frantz said.

“… Jacob [Schuller] at UIndy Dining … and [Executive] Chef Taylor [Hignite] were awesome in thinking through the menu and providing slides about what they’ve done and how they’ve sourced their foods and what Quest has done to try to be more environmentally responsible and all the rest of that,” Frantz said. “And I think that was fantastic. … Among the other things, what that food helps us do is tell stories about who we are and establish community. I think the establishing community part within our UIndy community was particularly noteworthy this time because again, coming together over banquets, coming together over these special events, you bond over them.”

Frantz said the keynote speaker of the event went into detail about how hunger is more than a food issue. In an email sent by Indiana Humanities summarizing the key points of the symposium, it discussed the current climate surrounding the food system in Indiana and whether or not it is working. Speaker and author Kelsey Timmerman said that despite being a state of agriculture, Indiana imports 90% of its food crops. Additionally, speaker and Director of Operations for Central Indiana’s The Garden Table restaurants Connie Lee said the broken food system causes those at risk to be those at the highest disparity with other speakers saying that the entire system was designed to be fixed.

“‘The system isn’t broken,’ Soul Food Project Indy Executive Director Danielle Guerin suggested. ‘It’s operating exactly the way its designed to.’ Chris Baggott, founder of Tyner Pond Farm and co-founder of ClusterTruck, concurred, saying food access issues are fueled by food production, delivery and distribution systems that serve the purposes of massive companies rather than consumers.”

According to Assistant Director of Retention Strategy and Student Experience Design Kelley Lykens, there are resources available to students and those affected by food insecurity. An option on campus and exclusive to UIndy students is free grocery pick up from the UIndy Food Pantry, Lykens said. 

“The way that UIndy students can sign up for free grocery pickup at the food pantry is by accessing the Google sign-up form for free grocery pickup and they can access that through the UIndy Food Pantry website,” Lykens said. “There’s also QR codes posted outside of the Academic Success Center.”

However, Lykens said she knows there is stigma surrounding receiving need-based help and services. While it will be hard to remove the stigma, it is important to remember where people are as college students, Lykens said.

“I think for students to help remove the stigma is to remember that all students right now are here pursuing their UIndy degree and college is an investment of your time and your money,” Lykens said. “And so that is naturally going to take away some ability to be able to kind of like work full time or things like that. I mean, I don’t think there is any shame in leaning on your resources and utilizing free resources when and where you can.”

Currently operating entirely on donations, the UIndy Food Pantry is just one resource UIndy provides to students, according to Lykens. While they are open based on availability, there is also the community garden available located on Standish Avenue to students. Additionally, Lykens said students can download the Community Compass App which has access to different necessities such as groceries and meals for free, aiding in other processes such as food assistance programs. According to Lykens, it is important to know what is available, especially in a community where people are facing food insecurity.

“Knowing what resources are available, I think is something everyone should kind of be aware of in general, like just know your resources, know where you can go for support,” Lykens said. “So one big thing that I share with students that I’m talking to who might just want to have some extra resources in their pocket, have that extra like tool in their tool belt: the Community Compass app.”

According to Inside Higher Ed, students have higher rates of food insecurity than adults in the United States (33%-51% vs 9%), and the last point in the email sent by Indiana Humanities explains consumers have the power to make a change. The email said the panelists recommended actions like demanding grocery stores carry foods relevant to the community, not being afraid to be antagonistic and watching where our spending is going to. Additionally, Lykens explained resources are always available to students in any type of need at the Phil and Janet Terry Center for Campus Connections.

“This is an office that students can come to whenever they’re facing any type of challenge or issue or concern,” Lykens said. “We’re here to connect students to resources both on and off campus. And we provide students kind of different resources to offer them financial, academic, social and personal support. So students can always come to us if they are having any issue or concern. It doesn’t really matter how small or large it is.”

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