By Submitted Article on June 19, 2020.
Citizens can help combat the problem
At one of our Faculty Council meetings, a colleague initiated a food drive to fill the barren shelves of the University of Lethbridge Student Union (ULSU) food bank. We are proud of the ULSU in their continual efforts to reduce food insecurity for U of L students, but evidence shows that this work must be accompanied by systemic changes to improve food security for students.
For university students, food insecurity negatively affects attendance, academic performance, diet and health. This is significant given that almost two out of five university students experience some degree of food insecurity (Shen, 2019). Reliance on food banks obscures the structural factors that have led to food insecurity in the first place. Factors such as limited income, tuition cost, racialization, international student expenses, Indigenous status and graduate student status further exacerbate this issue (Silverthorn, 2016). While food banks help alleviate immediate needs, there is compelling evidence to suggest that they do not reduce food insecurity (Riches, 2003; Tarasuk, Dacher, & Loopstra, 2014; Prange, 2016; Mendly-Zambo & Raphael, 2019), and the provisions from food banks do not meet daily nutritional requirements (Tarasuk & Beaton, 1999; Tse & Tarasuk, 2008).
From 2006 to 2016, tuition fees at Canadian universities increased by an average of 40 per cent (Statistics Canada, 2016). In the provincial government’s recent MacKinnon Report, the panel recommended that more post-secondary funding should come from tuition and alternative revenue sources (Government of Alberta, 2019). We are concerned about the negative impacts that tuition increases will have on our students, particularly those from low-income households or marginalized communities. Not everyone needs to go to university, but those who do should not have to go hungry in order to complete their education.
Here are a few things that you can do to help address the issue of student food insecurity:
1. Offer work opportunities that pay living wages to students so that they may save for university.
2. Contribute to the Nourish program at the University of Lethbridge. They buy breakfast for students during final exams and support the campus food pantries. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 403.317.2825.
3. Write to your Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) to voice your opinion on tuition increases. Lethbridge.West@assembly.ab or Lethbridge.East@
4. Write to your Member of Parliament, Rachael Harder (email@example.com), to express your support for sustained funding for advanced education. Federal government funding for education has declined by 50 per cent since 1992 (Canadian Association of University Teachers, 2015).
5. Write to the Minister of Advanced Education (Hon. Demetrios Nicolaides, firstname.lastname@example.org) about the impact of rising tuition costs for food insecurity amongst post-secondary students in Alberta.
6. Advocate and/or organize. There are a number of excellent resources available through the Meal Exchange website: https://www.mealexchange.com/chapter-resources.
Stereotypes of the “starving student” who survives on macaroni and cheese or packages of ramen noodles normalize the shortage of healthy foods for university students. It is time to retire this stereotype and invest in our students.
Julia Brassolotto, PhD
Carina Zhu, RN, MPH
Silvia Koso, MD, MPH
Nimesh Patel, MD, MPH
Richard Larouche, PhD
Faculty of Health Sciences
University of Lethbridge