By Katie Garrett
“Food hand out.” This was the first of multiple messages sent to first-year students at AUC on 1 October. A photo soon followed in their dedicated WhatsApp group chat revealing salads, sodas, and biscuits filling a cardboard box. This was the second food donation event at the student dorms in two weeks, following a sandwich giveaway on 21 September. The messenger closed out the announcement with some advice: “Good stuff, come quick.”
Students did not think twice, claiming almost all the food items within ten minutes of posting. But questions grew from the quick disappearance of such a haul: where did this food come from? And why is there so much demand?
First-year student Jimena López de la Llave organised both food donations at the dorms. She began doing so following a chance encounter with Peter Gualterus Hoeboer, the founder of Blije Buren (Happy Neighbours). The non-profit organisation collects food which would otherwise go to waste from supermarkets and cafés, and redistributes it at drop-off points around Amsterdam. They have supported hundreds of people per week for twelve years—and have now added the dorms to their schedule.
“What we’ve been trying to do is make this [dorm room] a drop-off point”, López de la Llave said. The organisation had never worked with the AUC community prior to the late September drop-off. “They seem pretty happy to help students.”
She confirms that demand is high: “we post a WhatsApp and in twenty minutes, it [the food]’s gone.” What is the reason behind this popularity? She suggests that the food is often higher quality than what students would usually buy, which adds a level of excitement. It is also convenient. Drop-offs can save students a trip to the supermarket or time spent preparing dinner.
But this demand is not confined to AUC’s drop-offs. Hoeboer has noticed an increased demand for Blije Buren’s services over the past few years. He suggests that some part of that growth is natural—people who didn’t know about the organisation before may now approach them for support. But he also believes that the COVID-19 pandemic, energy crisis, and rising costs have affected many people’s access to food.
Food insecurity is an issue for university students worldwide. Half of young adults in France had limited access to food in 2021. An estimated 48% of Australian students experienced food insecurity before the pandemic. Increasing costs of education and inconsistent wages from part-time work have been named as possible causes. But do such issues exist in Amsterdam—and specifically, at AUC?
These experiences in student communities are often hidden, according to Hoeboer. “Those students are not usually talked about,” he notes. “They’re happy with a pizza or some fries.” Food insecurity is not a complete lack of access to food. Instead, it can also describe a lack of access to nutritious, adequate and frequent portions. Struggles can thus go under-the-radar. But with Blije Buren, Hoeboer has worked with students of all kinds: “I want them [students] to become aware that there are campaigns against food waste, that they can get access to good food, and enough food.”
If such struggles exist at AUC, Student Life Officers have not been contacted about them. No students have ever reported experiences of food insecurity, according to Fili Dianellou.
“I believe that not having run into this issue as SLOs is already an indication of how big of an issue this is for AUC students,” she says. But she recognises it may still be hidden: “It could also be that people are ashamed to be open about this in such an international context.”
Miriam Crane, AUC’s Students Affairs Officer, has also never been approached about such concerns. “This is my first time hearing about this issue,” she notes. Though she shares that rent and grocery prices have increased in her two years at AUC, the Student Council has not seen such changes cause pervasive issues among the student body.
Crane believes it is still important to build a caring environment at the University for anyone who may be struggling: “it’s important that we don’t make people who are dealing with these issues think that they aren’t going to be understood”. She suggests that students in need of financial support can apply for the AUC Solidarity Fund.
While there are no known issues of food security among AUC students, Hoeboer remains eager to work with them. He suggests that the University could expand Blije Buren’s drop-offs into a wider community initiative: “we can provide a certain amount of fruits and vegetables, [and] the university can encourage the students to make soup or some other proper meal out of it, to offer to the people for free.” López de la Llave already has plans to build a wider community around the organisation. “We could do an actual dinner party [to] get a more social aspect going,” she suggests, and hopes to organise an event like this in the near-future.
Between drop-offs and formal events, Hoeboer is asking AUC students to simply support one another. Share what you don’t need. Connect with others, and do so through good food. After all, Blije Buren began in the same way twelve years ago: “For us, we simply started with some soup, eggs and bread, to help people.”