New ‘toolkit’ offers remedies for student hunger

Global horrors reverberate in far-off campuses, widening the gap between students and their prosperous surrounds

三月 18, 2022
Student food, more Australian students are going hungry due to rising costs of live
Source: iStock

Australian universities are being urged to take practical steps to alleviate rising hunger on campus, as the Ukraine crisis puts more pressure on global living costs.

A new “toolkit” proposes measures such as “food preparation hubs”, where students can prepare meals in communal kitchens, and “pantries” full of free staples like cereal, rice, vegetables, bread and canned goods.

Universities should consider issuing low-income students with debit cards or vouchers redeemable at grocery stores and farmers’ markets. And students should be enlisted to develop local versions of a “food rescue app” alerting their hungry peers to leftovers from campus functions.

The toolkit has been uploaded to a dedicated website also featuring a report on student hunger and a short video illustrating the problem from a student’s perspective. “I’ve planned my lecture timetable to coincide with free food on campus,” the narrator says.

“I have a forensic knowledge of where there’s free pizza. I know how long I’ll have to wait in line for a sausage sizzle and if I’ll have to miss a class to get there in time. But I know that after eating that food, my body will still feel sluggish – worn down by junk.”

The toolkit urges a holistic approach to hunger where issues of nutrition, health and sustainability are addressed in campus services, policies, audits and curricula. It cites practices in overseas institutions such as the University of Pittsburgh, La Salle University in Philadelphia and the University of California system.

It also describes local initiatives including Deakin University’s microwave hubs, the University of Melbourne’s SecondBite food rescue programme, Monash University’s cheap eats scheme – dishing up meals for less than A$6 (£3.30) apiece – and food insecurity surveys at the University of Tasmania and Queensland University of Technology.

The website was developed after a Melbourne team quizzed dozens of Victorian students about hunger. The two-year study followed a 2018 National Union of Students survey which found that money worries were widespread and over one in seven students regularly went without necessities including food.

Craig Jeffrey, a professor of human geography, said Covid had exacerbated these issues. The war in eastern Europe would make things worse by forcing up the cost of fuel, consequently raising food prices and squeezing the supply of “core commodities” from Ukraine.

“It is such a big producer of grain and things like sunflower oil,” he said. “Wages are not rising quickly in Australia – certainly not the kind of wages that students earn, working in cafés and so forth – and the cost of living is going to increase. That’s going to make food insecurity for the population as a whole more pressing, and particularly for students.”

Arguably, the potential savings from free food programmes – with universities getting more bang from their teaching buck, through better student outcomes and lower attrition – might offset the costs. Professor Jeffrey said: “As universities are thinking much harder about the student experience, food is a really obvious place to start.”

He said food could provide a link with sustainability issues and a focal point for locals and foreigners to mix, making international students feel less “ghettoised”. It could also help “reactivate” campuses reeling from coronavirus.

“Everyone’s complaining about students not coming to lectures," Professor Jeffrey continued. "If you have excellent food at a reasonable price on campus, they’re much more likely to come.”



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