Over the past year, our team has been on quite the journey. As a group, we have a variety of interests and wanted to work on a project that we were all passionate about. We brainstormed and discovered that nutrition was at the intersection of our interests. After researching and reflecting on our own cultural experiences, we wanted to address the lack of cultural consideration in Canada’s Food Guide (CFG). To better understand this space, we spoke with key opinion leaders and nutrition-related organizations. However, we learned that CFG was already being revised, which took us back to the drawing board. We continued speaking with students, faculty and food services at the University of Toronto (UofT), and discovered that there were many existing campus food services and programs; including cooking lessons, dietician counselling, and community food events. We learned that UofT students were unaware of available programs and described campus food as expensive. After investigating, we found that the problem was food insecurity (see section 1.2 for definition). Around
39% of students would be considered food insecure based on research at five Canadian universities (Silverthorn, 2016). Our preliminary literature review suggested this is a common problem among postsecondary students, affecting mental and physical health (Silverthorn, 2016). At this point, we came up with our first gap analysis: currently, there are post-secondary students experiencing food insecurity.
Our desired state would be for these students to become more food secure. Based on our literature review, there are many factors which contribute to food insecurity. These include student debt and poverty (Olauson, Engler-Stringer, Vatanparast & Hanoski, 2018), as well as students indicating that they sacrificed buying a healthy meal in order to pay for rent, tuition or textbooks (Silverthorn, 2016).
Based on our environmental scan, we observed that a common intervention to help students obtain food are campus-based food banks. Based on the study by Silverthorn et al (2016), in a university of over 60,000 students, such as UofT, over 23,000 students are potentially food insecure. Therefore, we decided to better understand UofT students’ experience with food insecurity, focusing on UTSG Food Bank users. We recognize that food banks are not a solution, but they are one of the current strategies to combat hunger amongst students and food bank users are likely to be food insecure. We also learned that the UTSG Food Bank plans to move from their current temporary site to a permanent location. As translational researchers, we sought to learn about users’ needs and preferences, and understand if the service was meeting their needs. This report summarizes our work and findings. We understand that food insecurity is a large problem, and this project does not cover its entire scope. It is an attempt to highlight the growing issue of student food insecurity and to pave the way for our
community to start addressing this problem.
Capstone Advisory Committee:
TRP Faculty Lead: