Shockingly High Levels of Food Insecurity Within Lakehead Student Body

By: Savanah Tillberg

Food Bank

On October 26, 2016, Meal Exchange, a Canadian charity organization who aims to provide healthy, sustainable and affordable food options, released a study that analyzed the patterns of food insecurity within five Canadian universities. The study revealed that nearly half of the participants from Lakehead University experienced food insecurity.

A survey was made available to students during the 2016 winter term at the University of Calgary, Ryerson University, Brock University, Dalhousie University, and Lakehead University. A total of 4013 students across all five schools completed the survey.

The study concluded that 39% of student participants experienced some degree of food insecurity, varying from moderate to severe. The study also showed that 46% of the participants from Lakehead University experienced food insecurity.

There are multiple contributing factors that impact levels of student food insecurity, including but not limited to: high youth-unemployment rates, increasing tuition rates, student debt, and students living as independents with dependents (children, unemployed spouses, disabled family members, etc.). Although food insecurity among students reached rates of nearly 40% across the five campuses, only 16.8% of those students disclosed accessing food from a food bank.

Why are only a small percentage of students accessing food banks when such a large proportion of students need to? LUSU Food Bank Coordinator Robert Strachan said “there is a stigma associated with using the food bank and accepting charity.” People are afraid of the judgment associated with asking for help. Strachan also stated that there are often “cultural biases” that cause people to be more reluctant to use the food bank or accept charity. Statistically, males are less likely to accept charity as opposed to females, however within the LUSU food bank, “53% of the recipients are male,” said Strachan.

Strachan also commented on the lack of knowledge about the food bank, saying, “Not very many people know that the food bank is here for everybody.” It is a common belief that in order to receive help from the food bank, you need to provide an income statement. However, this is not the case for the LUSU food bank. Strachan said that the food bank operates “on faith,” and if you say you are in need of assistance, it will be provided.

According to the Meal Exchange study, more than half of food insecure students belong to a minority group, and often culturally appropriate options are not readily available at many food banks. Strachan said there are “resources at the LUSU food bank that are Halal and Kosher,” however these choices are limited and few in number. Because the food bank functions primarily on donations, it is difficult to keep culturally specific items and even items for those with dietary concerns such as gluten and dairy allergies on the shelves. Strachan said at the moment, there is not much effort being made toward bringing in more minority-focused food options. This is largely because these items tend to be more costly and that the food bank has a small operating budget. With a small budget, it is difficult to prioritize one group of individuals’ needs over another, and the food bank tries to utilize their budget to provide services to the widest range of students possible.

The Meal Exchange study acknowledges a major issue in Canada, which until recent years went largely unnoticed. The goal of the study was to educate Canadians about the prevalence of food insecurity and malnourishment among students, and to inspire Canadians to act on and challenge this issue.


Leave a Reply