Food Insecurity in University Students
Food insecurity can be described as “the inadequate or insecure access to food due to financial constraints” (PROOF, Food Insecurity Policy Research). Unfortunately, many Canadians experience food insecurity each year, with the highest provincial rate of insecurity being in Nova Scotia. According to a study done by the Canadian Community Health Survey 14.3 percent of Nova Scotian’s experienced food insecurity in 2015-2016. Many studies have shown higher rates of vulnerability to food insecurity in Indigenous households, household’s with children under 18, as well as households with a single parent. One group that is often forgotten when considering food insecurity is undergraduate university students. According to a study done by the non-profit “Meal Exchange” 2 in 5 university students experience food insecurity, with reports on negative effects on their academic performance, as well as on their mental health.
Sadly, food insecurity has become a normalized phenomenon for many students, with the stereotypes of having to eat 20 cent ramen noodles for dinner widely accepted as part of “the university experience”. Although students have been struggling to feed themselves for years, it has becoming increasingly more challenging as tuition rates have gone up 238% since 1991 (Canadian Federation of Students, 2014). High tuition rates, food costs, housing costs, and inadequate funds are some the main barriers stopping students from accessing proper, nutritious food. Among the schools in Canada which have conducted survey’s on their students ability to feed themselves, Nova Scotia continues to have some of the highest rates of insecurity in the country, with 46% at Dalhousie University, 38% at Acadia University, and 37% at St. Francis Xavier University (Frank, 2018). Among the food insecurity experienced by students there is also a disproportionate amount of indigenous students, racialized students, students living off campus and students paying for their education through bank loans (Hungry for Knowledge Report, 2015- 2016).
So what can we do to help combat hunger in students? Many campus food banks are simply not cutting it, and lack many resources needed to be successful. Instead pushing campuses towards more programs such as the Loaded Ladle at Dalhousie University, or the Hive Free Lunch program at Concordia. The Loaded Ladle offers four free, accessible, sustainable, and locally sourced meals a week, along with hosting events which examine the barriers to food sovereignty, food security, and food justice. The Hive Free lunch program at Concordia offers free lunch every school day to students, staff, and anyone else. Their meals are all vegan, wheat-free, and nut-free, as well as locally sourced. Other resources that could be beneficial to students are community farms, along with a basic understanding of how to farm, and local food.
Silverthorn, D. (2016). Hungry for knowledge: Assessing the prevalence of student food insecurity on five Canadian campuses. Toronto: Meal Exchange. Retrieved from: http://mealexchange.com
Frank, L. (2018). “Hungry for an Education”: Prevalence and Outcomes of Food Insecurity Among Students at a Primarily Undergraduate University in Rural Nova Scotia. Articles Canadian Journal of Higher Education, 48(2), 109-129. doi:10.7202/1057106ar
Canada, H. (2020, February 18). Government of Canada. Retrieved June 10, 2020, from https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/food-nutrition/food-nutrition-surveillance/health-nutrition-surveys/canadian-community-health-survey-cchs/household-food-insecurity-canada-overview.html
Administrator, P. (2018, June 25). PROOF Administrator. Retrieved June 10, 2020, from https://proof.utoronto.ca/new-data-available/
Links to Loaded Ladle and Hive Free Lunch: