Anabel’s Grocery at Cornell University Provides Affordable Food For All

by Marissa Sheldon, MPH
Anabel's Grocery

Part of the Food Policy Snapshot Series

Policy name: Anabel’s Grocery

Overview: A student-run, non-profit grocery store on Cornell’s campus provides fresh, local, and affordable food for all students in order to improve food security while also promoting anti-racism.  

Location: Cornell University, Ithaca, NY

Population: 23,620 total students (undergraduate, graduate, and professional, 2020)

Food policy category: Food security, food justice

Program goals: To provide healthy, affordable food for all students and to create an equitable and ecologically-sound food system.

How it works: Anabel’s is run by students enrolled in a Practicum in Social Entrepreneurship course and overseen by the Center for Transformative Action, a social justice-focused non-profit affiliated with Cornell. The grocery is located within Anabel Taylor Hall on Cornell’s campus. 

Much of the produce sold at the store is sourced from local growers and producers, including Cornell’s student-run Dilmun Hill Farm, Cornell Orchards, and the Cornell Hydroponics Club. Many items are sold on a “pay-what-you-can” basis, and others cost approximately half of what one would pay for the same product at the local farmer’s market. A subsidy fund from Cornell’s undergraduate and graduate Student Assemblies helps to keep prices low. 

Proceeds from Dilmun Hill produce and Hydroponics Club greens go to a grant fund administered by Cornell Students for Black Lives to support the fight against racism.

The store is aesthetically pleasing, sells high-quality food, and is open to all members of the Cornell community, so that everyone is afforded the same level of dignity and no one is singled out. 

During the fall semester, Anabel’s is open from 3pm to 7pm on Wednesdays and Thursdays and from 12pm to 5pm on Fridays. 

In the spring semester, EBT will also be accepted. 

Progress to date: The original impetus for opening the store was a concern that the stigma associated with using food assistance programs would prevent students in need from going to the campus food pantry. The idea was first approved in 2015, and Anabel’s opened in the summer of 2017. The store then closed for the spring of 2019 to reassess its organizational structure. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020, Anabel’s was forced to shut down again, reopening for online orders only (with in-person pickup) in March 2021. It was able to reopen for in-person shopping in the fall semester of 2021.  

Why it is important: Food security and hunger are common issues on college campuses. In 2019, results from a survey of 86,000 college students across the US showed that 45 percent had experienced food insecurity in the previous 30 days, and the College and University Food Bank Alliance reports that, on average, 30 percent of college students are food insecure.  

The 2019 Cornell PULSE (Perceptions of Undergraduate Life and Student Experiences) Survey asked students how often they ate less than they felt they needed during the academic year and received the following responses: 

  • 30.2 percent of all students responded that they ate less than they felt they needed “often” or “very often” due to lack of transportation.
  • 17 percent responded “often” or “very often” due to lack of money.
  • 29.2 percent responded “often” or “very often” due to lack of time to shop. 
  • 36.7 percent responded “often” or “very often” due to lack of time to prepare food.  

Additionally, minority race respondents were much more likely than their white counterparts to provide a response of “often” or “very often” to these questions. 

Many college students are financially independent for the first time and have to balance the costs of tuition, textbooks, rent, and food. College meal plans are often too expensive for students to afford on their own, with an average cost of $4,500 per year

Food insecurity among college students is associated with higher stress levels, lower quality sleep, increased depressive symptoms, and, as a result, poorer academic performance. It is important for colleges and universities to help students access nutritious and affordable foods so they can achieve better physical and mental health, as well as better academic performance.  

Anabel’s allows shoppers to save money on the cost of food in a convenient on-campus location and also provides quick, nutritious recipes that educate students about preparing and consuming healthy meals. 

Program/Policy initiated: Anabel’s first opened in 2017.

Point of contact: 
Anke Wessels, Executive Director, Center for Transformative Action

Similar practices: The Berkeley Student Food Collective is a similar student-run non-profit that sells fresh foods at low prices to the Berkeley, California, community. Unlike Anabel’s, however, it is not located on-campus and does not have a college course associated with it. 

Evaluation: On average, Anabel’s has saved shoppers 18 percent on groceries during the fall 2021 semester compared to what they would have paid at the leading local grocery store. Anecdotally, students seem very pleased with the appearance, offerings, prices, and mission of the store. 

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