Post-Study Abroad: Fighting Food Insecurity in the USA

Post-Study Abroad: Fighting Food Insecurity in the USA

By Kelsey Palmisano

Last Fall, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to study abroad in the beautiful Florence, Italy. During my time abroad, I spent my weekends traveling and was able to visit over 25 cities throughout 10 countries in just four months. Whether in Florence or traveling, one of the biggest parts of my trip was food (I mean come on – I didn’t get the nickname Pizza Queen for nothing). I ate my way through each city, day in and day out. Some days I was legitimately brought to tears over how unbelievably delicious some of the foods I was eating tasted.

From my favorite window pizza in Florence, to fresh seafood in a cone on the coast of Cinque Terre, to traditional Moussaka in Greece, to Käsekrainer (sausage filled with cheese) served inside a baguette-like bread at the Christmas Markets in Vienna, Austria, to the special panino that Pino made with love on my first-ever Thanksgiving without my family, to the mouth watering homemade pistachio-pesto pasta in Sicily at 10am, I never let a single bite go to waste and was known for literally licking my plate clean (even if that meant having to unbutton my pants mid-meal to allow for more room). 

I came home just in time for the holidays in December and being part of a big Italian family like myself, continued to eat. Then – fast forward to second semester at school. I’m living in an off campus house, no longer on a meal plan, and responsible for doing my own grocery shopping/cooking. It was then that I realized just how expensive groceries here in the US really were here (especially in comparison to in Europe) and it amazed me how much food/money it must have taken to feed my family of six each day. I made conscious efforts to never let food go to waste and to make sure I always ate leftovers (if there was ever a rare occasion that there even was any).

Fast forward a couple months…time to lock in a summer internship. After struggling through a difficult semester, I needed to do something meaningful this summer – something that I enjoyed and would bring me to be part of a positive environment. I went against the pressures of getting a 40+ hour paid internship at a major company in Manhattan and instead I chose to spend my summer interning at a Non-profit called Move for Hunger in Asbury Park, NJ and working as a hostess at Blu Sushi in Normandy Beach in the evenings. Most kids my age are so wrapped up in getting ahead with the perfect internship and living in NYC, but that just wasn’t for me. I wasn’t ready for that hustle and bustle and I could not have been happier with my decision. Instead, I spend my time fighting hunger. Whether it be in the office in Asbury, or sharing what I’m doing with those I come encounter with in my life on a daily basis, I am always making conscious efforts to call to attention the food insecurity and food waste issue that is impacting millions of Americans everyday.

charity food insecurity usa

On the first day of the internship, we got a list of fast facts that left me in disbelief. Here’s the breakdown:

  • Food insecurity affects more than 42 million Americans
  • Food insecurity affects 1 in 6 children in the US
  • 40% of the food produced in the US each year is lost or wasted

In my home state of New Jersey, almost one million people go to bed hungry each night. The county with the highest food insecurity rate (17.4%) is also ironically the county I live in – Essex County. So while I was traveling all around Europe and eating my way through one city after the next, almost 140,000 people who come from the same county as me were going to bed hungry each night. This really makes me think about things. It is extremely disheartening and gives me a sense of guilt that makes me that much more eager to fight the hunger issue that is impacting millions of people everyday. If that many people are hungry from just my local community, imagine how many people all around the world are hungry. To find facts for any state, county, or congressional district, go to http://map.feedingamerica.org

I am determined to fight this hunger issue through raising awareness, encouraging others to get involved and take action, and fundraising to support Move For Hunger so we can continue to help those in need. I am humbled to be working with such a great team to fight this national issue and hope you will take action too. Please consider joining me in the fight to end hunger by donating to my page, sharing this post with family and friends, and encouraging others to give back to their local communities. For more information on Move For Hunger, visit our website!