More affordable food options need to be provided to students

Food aid programs are valuable, but they also shed light on structural food insecurity

Students in dire need can rely on a few programs to help cover basic nutritional requirements. Photo: Markus Spiske / Unsplash

By: Nicole Magas, Opinions Editor

The student life isn’t an easy one. Many of us have been in the situation at one time or another where we’re forced to cleverly move money around, just to make sure that all of our bills get paid on time, if only just. Sometimes, this means bringing some home-brew coffee instead of feeding that Starbucks addiction. But for some students living much closer to the razor edge of poverty, paying tuition, rent, and utilities can mean that the food budget is gutted entirely.

Fortunately, SFU has a few programs intended to assist students who have traded a full fridge for keeping the lights on. The Simon Fraser Student Society (SFSS) has a food bank program that allows students to anonymously apply for grocery store gift cards of up to $25, three times a semester. Similarly, once a week Embark gives away free fruits and vegetables that don’t meet the aesthetic standards of grocery stores. 

While these programs provide a valuable service for students who have trouble making ends meet, it’s worth taking a step back to consider the conditions that make such programs necessary. Why, in one of the richest countries in the world, are university students in such dire straits that they require assistance just to feed themselves?

To be sure, part of this issue stems from the fact that university is traditionally seen as a vehicle for social mobility, especially for those on the lower end of the economic spectrum. This subsequently means that a portion of the student body begins university from a place of economic insecurity, and therefore may struggle with the balance between the cost of living and the cost of tuition during their four year commitment to this investment. 

However, we shouldn’t discount specific, food-related economic factors that compound these difficulties for students from lower-income households. The BC Centre for Disease Control measures food security as the proportion of income it takes to purchase a nutritionally sound “food basket.” The Centre notes that the rising cost of this basket (an average increase of $45 between 2015 and 2018) predictably hurts lower income families the most. 

Students at SFU are easily able to quantify food costs against their own budgets. Affordable dining options are severely limited at SFU, with Tim Hortons providing one of the cheapest options available for food. Veggie Lunch previously also provided affordable lunch options, however the service has now been discontinued

While it is commendable that SFU provides emergency food aid to students in need through programs like Embark and the SFSS food bank program, it is arguably more beneficial to address issues of economic hardship and food insecurity among students before they reach the point when emergency aid is required. More affordable dining options, especially those provided by the university itself, need to be made available. Similarly, while it is nice to have a grocery store on campus, Nester’s isn’t exactly on the cheaper end of the scale. 

It is important to remember that not everyone who attends university does so from a basis of financial security. Every effort should be made to ensure that the basic necessities of life provided on campus cater to a range of economic circumstances. The existence of emergency food services at SFU highlights the absence of this range, and demonstrates the regrettable reality of food insecurity for some students.