Guides in the food desert

Mount Saint Vincent University is making arrangements to hold its first Food Awareness Week on March 24 through 28 to promote issues of food security among university students.

By Mat Wilush

MSVU student initiative prepares week of Food Awareness

The student pantry is too often a wasteland
The student pantry is too often a wasteland (Mat Wilush/Peninsula News)

Mount Saint Vincent University is making arrangements to hold its first Food Awareness Week on March 24 through 28 to promote issues of food security among university students.

The week’s events are being orchestrated by MSVU’s chapter of the student-led charity Meal Exchange.

“We are concerned with promoting tangible food issues,” says Heidi Hoffman, a 23 year-old dietetics student and member of Meal Exchange. “These issues could include students with no resources to buy food – no money or no time.”

Scheduled throughout the week are seminars and activities to foster community activism and hunger awareness.

Shannon Aulenback has been enlisted to speak about food security throughout the week. He has volunteered for the Out of the Cold emergency winter shelter for several years and has seen firsthand the effects of food scarcity.

“Awareness is one of the most important aspects to approaching any crisis,” says Aulenback. “Be it homelessness or hunger. Before anything can be done, you need to know what the crisis is.”

The announcement of MSVU’s Food Awareness Week follows the February release of a University of Toronto report on the state of Canadian food security. The report suggests that in 2012, nearly 14 percent of Canadian families experienced some degree of food insecurity.

The report highlighted the situations of 33 major metropolitan areas in Canada. It found that one in five homes in Halifax are affected by food insecurity – the highest percentage in the country.

Meal Exchange’s last initiative, a Halloween-night canned food drive called Trick-or-Eat, filled the MSVU food bank with non-perishable items. The event was organized to alleviate student hunger and assist those who are unable to make ends meet.

However, Hoffman is doubtful about the impact the contributions have made for students. In February, only six names are listed with the MSVU food bank, down from 16 in January.

“We need to get rid of the stigma of food banks,” Hoffman says. “Some students don’t want to let their fellow peers know that they can’t afford to eat, and so, they opt not to use the food bank.”

While Hoffman doubts that Hunger Awareness Week will dramatically shift Halifax’s hunger situation, their primary objective is education. Through this, they hope to implement more lasting change.

“Students need to tell the government what is needed, [access to affordable food], not the reverse,” said Hoffman.  “We have a better understanding of how much is needed, and we can make a change.”