Food insecurity is a real issue in Australia, affecting 5.2% of the population.² It refers to a lack of access to nutritious, healthy food in a safe and reliable way.
I was reading an interesting opinion piece the other day (yes, it was that one in the Herald Sun¹) and it got me thinking, well first it annoyed me, but then it got me thinking… It used the hefty price tag on a seat at Blumenthal’s restaurant The Fat Duck as a comparison for all the meals that a charitable food organisation could produce (1050, to be exact). Ultimately making me feel a little guilty and putting a definite dampener on the foodie in me. But it did raise an important point; that food insecurity is a big problem for a lot of us out there.
A recent study conducted by researchers at Deakin University found that 47.5% of students had experienced food insecurity during the past year.³ Usually when we think of food insecurity, we think of homeless people, people in third world countries, the elderly… but not so often young people in Australia, such as students. Students who are often paying rent, studying full-time, working on or below minimum wage and for those fortunate enough, often scraping by with a little help from Centrelink.
The life of a broke uni student, right? And it sucks!
There are a lot of interconnected and complex factors involved in food insecurity; but the major ones come down to a lack of financial resources, poor nutrition knowledge and being located outside of urban areas where it may be difficult to find a supermarket. Research refers to these as food insecurity issues, but for university students I think they are also unfortunately an annoying but begrudgingly accepted way of life.
Another study looking at university students in Brisbane found that one in four students reported being food insecure.4 In this study, food insecurity was also shown to be correlated with poor general health and compromised tertiary studies. So, whether or not we are all ravenous, we are likely lacking access to nutritionally adequate food, and as a result, may be under nourished, vitamin deficient and not performing to our best standards at this critical time. Think Easy Mac, two-minute noodles and boiled rice with various condiments such as an unhealthy dousing of soy sauce and srirachca (my personal favourite). Don’t see them on the food pyramid, hey? These easy options may be cheap and convenient, but are lacking in dietary fibre and often exceedingly high in sodium.
Fortunately, one of the growing strategies for addressing food insecurity is through volunteer organisations. Groups such as SecondBite, Food Bank and Fare Share are doing fantastic work re-distributing surplus food to people who need it most, where it would otherwise go to waste. These groups are also a great opportunity for nutrition and dietetics students like ourselves to get some work experience and lend a helping hand!
In addition to this, some community groups and universities run food co-ops (for example Wholefoods at Monash University). Food co-ops make it easy and affordable to buy fresh produce such as fruits and vegetables, improving access to nutritionally adequate food. Being involved in such an initiative also helps to increase nutrition knowledge and learn a few new recipes along the way.
Can you relate to some of these issues? If you or someone you know is going through some financial difficulties or experiencing food insecurity, then there are some great resources to turn to. Research is showing that food insecurity is a definite problem in the student population, so don’t feel like you’re alone. I know that I can vouch for the stress that is felt when pay day is just a little too far away and you’re wondering how you are going to afford dinner.
Now, speaking of dinner, excuse me while I go and enjoy my Easy Mac.
- Godinho, M. 1050 reasons to split the Fat Duck bill. The Herald Sun [internet]. 2014 November 4 [cited 2014 November 4]. Available from http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/opinion/reasons-to-split-the-fat-duck-bill/story-fni0ffsx-1227111415931
- Rosier K. Food insecurity in Australia. Australian Institute of Family Studies. Accessed 3rd November, 2014. Available from https://www3.aifs.gov.au/cfca/publications/food-insecurity-australia
- Micevski, D. A., Thornton, L. E. and Brockington, S. (2013), Food insecurity among university students in Victoria: A pilot study. Nutrition & Dietetics. doi: 10.1111/1747-0080.12097
- Gallegos, Danielle, Ramsey, Rebecca, & Ong, Kai (2014) Food insecurity : is it an issue among tertiary students. Higher Education, 67(5), pp. 497-510.