Getting to the core of food insecurity: we have to start somewhere

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There are many factors that feed into food insecurity on our campuses — but when it comes to solving the issue, the hunger will only be satisfied if someone takes the first bite.

The Hungry for Knowledge report released recently revealed that almost 40 per cent of Canadian students are food “insecure” — they are pushed to choose other university-related expenses over a balanced diet. Students belonging to vulnerable populations such as students of colour, Indigenous students and student parents were shown to have higher degrees of food insecurity.

The report focuses on an issue that is so often off the table. When we talk about students opting for a bag of chips over an apple, it’s easy to dismiss it as a personal choice and that the onus is on students to be healthy.

But students choose unhealthier options because they’re so often backed into a corner.

When you’re struggling to make rent payment and textbook costs are breaking the bank, buying a box of Kraft Dinner and ramen noodles instead of a cartload of vegetables becomes reasonable. These foods aren’t associated with student life because they’re unhealthy — they’ve become a staple of the student experience because they’re cheap.

The way unhealthy eating habits can inhibit other aspects of student life seems largely overlooked. Food insecurity is a large factor in many significant issues on Canadian campuses — it intersects with mental health resources and often dangerous binge drinking without food.

Finding an answer is difficult. If the reason for food insecurity is that students are facing exorbitant rent prices, textbooks costs are through the roof and tuition is only rising, the fix isn’t easy or quick.

But every shift has a starting point. University administrations can start by offering more non-academic scholarships and funding. Student leaders can make a dent by challenging the stigma around food banks, or simply legitimizing the reality of the problem.  

When an issue that affects so many people is so often ignored, bringing it out in the open is a powerful act.

— Journal Editorial Board

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