The student team behind Anabel’s Grocery, under construction in Anabel Taylor Hall and scheduled to open in summer 2017, envisions a campus where all students have access to affordable, high-quality food without having to sacrifice their studies due to hunger or lack of nutrition.
“The issue of food access and food security for students is complex, involving textbook prices, housing prices, tuition, financial aid and dining costs,” said Adam Shelepak ’17, Sloan MHA '18. “There are so many different players, and we just want to help out in the one area where we can, and we think we’re on the right track.”
The team, comprising representatives from all seven undergraduate colleges, aims to address student food insecurity by providing access to healthy food and increasing food literacy.
“We were observing issues with the food pantries on campus, learning about peers using them more and more, and hearing anecdotes about students skipping meals. From there, the idea of the grocery store came out,” said Shelepak, co-director of the project.
Food insecurity is a real issue on campuses across the country. At Cornell, more than 20 percent of students admit to skipping meals due to financial constraints, according to a Cornell PUSLE survey.
The team behind Anabel’s hopes to curb this trend through its on-campus grocery location and by providing low-cost options and subsidies for those who qualify.
“We ran through a lot of ideas, such as food pantries, subsidized meal swipe programs, meal sharing programs that have worked well in other schools, but ultimately we decided on this model,” Shelepak said.
The on-campus store means students will no longer require a car or bus to access affordable groceries.
According to Shelepak, students who demonstrate the highest need for food will be able to apply an anonymous subsidy for their groceries at the checkout and receive an 8 to 10 percent discount.
“A fund for the subsidy will be generated and sustained through a small markup across a basket of goods for nonsubsidized customers,” he said.
Anabel’s prides itself on being “more than just a grocery store.” Shelepak said the team understands that food access is only one barrier. Other obstacles, such as a lack of knowledge of cooking, budgeting, nutrition, or even access to adequate cookware, can impact a student’s regular diet.
“As a function of that, we decided we wanted to ensure we had an impact outside of just the grocery store,” he said. “During the time we planned and waited for the store to be completed, the team has made an impact through this programming, including roundtables on food security, cooking classes at the Martha Van Rensselaer Hall cooking labs, and meal kit builds for when dining halls are closed over break.”
“This programming, education and subsidy component of Anabel’s is innovative and unique compared to what is currently going on with solutions on campuses nationally,” Shelepak said. “If we can be a precedent, that would be good.”
Anabel’s Grocery is also now in the Cornell curriculum. In the new applied economics and management course Social Entrepreneurship Practicum: Anabel’s Grocery, students learn social entrepreneurship by working with the grocers, taking concepts taught in the classroom and applying them to Anabel’s.
Anabel’s Grocery is a project of the Center for Transformative Action.
Stephen D’Angelo is assistant director of communications for the College of Human Ecology.