organic vegetables
Photo by AndyRobertsPhotos

Rare is the Wagnerian issue where complaints about the dining hall's food offerings are not raised, as was the case in Wednesday's first issue of the spring semester. Nonetheless, food was a prominent theme of campus events this week.

First, yesterday it was announced that Wagner College and its partners, ShopRite grocery stores and the Staten Island Advance, had achieved the ambitious goal they set last August: to raise 25 tons of food for the food bank of the local nonprofit Project Hospitality.

Wagner student-athletes were especially involved in this effort, as President Guarasci acknowledged in his comments at yesterday's press conference. “Really it's a testament to our students and our student-athletes, who have really committed themselves to this,” he said. “I think the students are learning what it means to be part of a good community and how to contribute to making a good community.”

I was sitting next to Emma Konieczny '16, a midfielder on the Wagner soccer team, so we had the chance to chat about her involvement and what she learned from it.

She told me about her team's “Play Day” benefit held after Hurricane Sandy, an event that made food needs on Staten Island even more critical. On December 1, the Wagner women's soccer team hosted more than 30 local teams, ranging in age from little children to 40-somethings, and in the process raised almost $11,000 and hundreds of toys for hurricane victims, plus 800 pounds of food for the 25-ton drive.

“It feels good to help other people,” Konieczny told me. “I'm not from around here, but I'm coming to love Staten Island. What I've learned is that if everyone bonds together, you can accomplish anything.”

The food drive will continue with a new and bigger goal: to raise 50 tons of food for Project Hospitality and five other Staten Island food banks by the end of 2013.

Today, the conversation about food continued on a broader level at the semester's first Social Justice Dialogue. This is a weekly lunchtime series where anyone from the College community can come to learn and share ideas about topics of social justice. Today's was hunger and food insecurity on Staten Island.

Two representatives of City Harvest's Staten Island program were the day's guests. City Harvest is a New York City nonprofit that “rescues” excess from the food industry and distributes it to those who need it.

They presented facts about poverty and food insecurity (which means being unable to get food for oneself and one's family) on the North Shore of Staten Island — for example, this area has a 31 percent poverty rate (versus 19 percent for New York City as a whole) and it has the lowest access to fresh fruits and vegetables in the City.

But it was the discussion of what can be done to help that sparked the most dialogue: Supporting the SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, better known as food stamps) program is one. SNAP, they told us, has more economic benefits for the community, reaches more people, and leads to better health — especially SNAP in combination with easily accessible supermarkets, where customers can purchase healthy foods.

The limits put on which foods one can purchase with SNAP benefits — for example, hot prepared foods are ineligible — led to an interesting point about the function of soup kitchens: For poor families, they offer not only the possibility to be served a hot meal, but they also provide the social component that wealthier people enjoy by eating in restaurants.

As Rabbi Gerald Sussman, president of the board of Project Hospitality, said yesterday at the food drive press conference, giving food to people who need it is about more than providing physical nutrition; it is about providing hope to someone who's at the end of his or her rope. “It lifts up the whole community,” he said.

Just as in our Social Justice Dialogue with City Harvest, Sussman presented a vision of our nation's food network as something beyond a profit-making machine, something more profound than agribusiness.

“We don't usually think of a supermarket as a moral force in the community,” he said. “I think in a way a supermarket gives spiritual food as well, and that's by giving people the opportunity to reach out and help someone else.”

I will be thinking about that the next time I visit my local Trader Joe's or ShopRite, and when I say grace before I have my dinner.


— Laura Barlament, Editor,

January 31, 2013