Report finds food insecurity among female-identified graduate students, international students

Food Insecurity Advisory Committee will have first meeting by end of February

Food insecurity committee to implement recommendations starting in February.
Credit: 
Journal File Photo

Female-identified graduate students with family responsibilities are the most likely to experience food insecurity at Queen’s, a recent report found.

The Food Insecurity Working Group, established by Interim Provost and Vice-Principal Tom Harris last June, spent the fall term reviewing data and practices related to food insecurity at Queen’s. After the release of the working group’s report in December, a new Food Insecurity Advisory Committee will be established by the end of February to implement recommendations from the report.

The report defined food insecurity as “the inability to acquire or consume an adequate diet quality or sufficient quantity of food in socially acceptable ways, or the uncertainty that one will be able to do so.”

Corinna Fitzgerald, assistant dean (Student Life and Learning), chaired the Food Insecurity Working Group and worked with staff and student representatives to consult with community partners and experts.

“Food insecurity is a function of limited financial ability to pay for good, nutritious food,” Fitzgerald wrote in a statement to The Journal.

The group’s report acknowledged that inadequate nutrition amongst post-secondary students in Canada was correlated with lower academic performance, mental health challenges, and poor physical health.

“Much of what we heard is that students are not aware of either the issue or the supports that might be available,” Fitzgerald said.

The report also noted concerns raised by campus partners that, given the perceived affluence of the Queen’s population, the issue of food insecurity was largely masked, and that experiences of food insecurity could cause social isolation.

“Another issue for us relates to stigma around accessing supports and asking for help when students need it,” Fitzgerald said. “We are hoping that some of our efforts will work to reduce this stigma and increase access to the supports and resources that are available.”

The report identified international students, graduate students, students with family responsibilities, and female-identified students to be most likely to experience food insecurity, acknowledging that intersections of these identities were the most food insecure.

The first action recommended in the report is to form the Food Insecurity Advisory Committee.

“The group is in the process of being formed and will have its first meeting later this month,” Fitzgerald said. “The membership includes students and staff who are service providers on campus, and they will work together to implement the recommendations in the report.”

The report identified five strategic priority areas, including education and awareness, environment, community, skill-building, and policy.

“We are hoping to work to create partnerships between groups who are already doing great work,” Fitzgerald said.

Current programs that respond to food insecurity at Queen’s include cooking classes hosted by Student Wellness Services, Cooking with Grandmas and Cooking with Kingstonians, as well as $10 food boxes containing fresh produce and key ingredients produced by Queen’s University Be Well. The report acknowledged limitations of these programs like class sizes and expense.

Fitzgerald emphasized the need to make students aware of programs that seek to address food insecurity at Queen’s.

“Working with student unions and groups, we are hoping to make a difference here.”

Other programs available to Queen’s students include the AMS Food Bank, Queen’s Community Cupboard, the Ban Righ Centre’s free daily soup program for mature women students, and the Swipe It Forward Program in which students on meal plans can donate one meal per day to be allocated to a student in need.

The upcoming committee will have its first meeting at the end of this month.

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