Food Security Among Dawson College Students

 

Food security is “a situation that exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life” (FAO 2001). Based on a survey I conducted using a sample of 78 students, I found that the vast majority of Dawson College students are food secure. There are many factors that may influence the food security of Dawson College students, including the location of the school and the students’ household incomes. Nevertheless, there remains a portion of Dawson College students who are food insecure. In addition to analyzing the food security among Dawson College students, this paper explores what can be done to increase the amount of Dawson College students who are food secure, and the initiatives that are already in place.

The purpose of the survey I conducted was to determine if Dawson College students are food secure or food insecure, as well as the factors associated with their food security status. The sample of 78 students included 22 males, 55 females, and one gender non-conforming student. A noteworthy 88.5% of respondents feel there are sufficient or many food options at or around Dawson College. Also, 69.8% of respondents feel there are sufficient or many affordable food options available. Only 5.2% of participants felt they did not have enough to eat most school days during the fall 2016 semester. However, of the 88.3% who felt they had enough to eat most school days, 6.8% never had the kinds of foods they wanted, and only 34.2% always had the kinds of foods they wanted to eat. As for access to nutritious food, the responses were symmetrical. On a scale of very difficult to very easy to obtain nutritious food at or around Dawson College, 28.2% of respondents fell on each side of the scale, and 43.6% of respondents did not find it easy or difficult to obtain nutritious food at or around the college. Hence, these results demonstrate that most Dawson College students meet the requirements of being food secure. However, this sample may not be representative of all Dawson College students as it is only composed of 78 people. There are approximately 8,000 day students and 3,000 evening students attending Dawson College. Also, the questions in the survey may not be the best method of measuring food security. For instance, the response indicating that the respondent finds it difficult to obtain nutritious food at or around Dawson College may not signify food insecurity, but instead an unwillingness to explore the options available to them.

There are many possible reasons that Dawson College students are generally food secure. To start, the school’s location gives students easy access to Alexis Nihon shopping centre’s cafeteria, in addition to options within the school such as the school cafeteria and bake sales. Considering that some students obtain food through a combination of these and other methods, 70.5% usually bring food from home, 52.6% buy food from the Alexis Nihon cafeteria, and 17.9% buy food from the Dawson College cafeteria during a typical school day. Additionally, the survey found that only 17.9% of respondents have yearly household incomes below $30,000. Most Dawson College students do not come from low income households. In fact, 66.7% of respondents have yearly household incomes of at least $60,000. Most of the respondents, 69.2%, are also earning their own money which influences their access to food. Of these students, most earn between $201 to $400 every month. Having cooking knowledge may influence the food security of Dawson College students, as 87.2% believe they know how to cook basic foods. However, this is arguable because the students who do not know how to cook food or only somewhat know how to cook food did not display results showing higher rates of food insecurity than those who do. Lastly, only 23 of the 78 respondents have dietary restrictions (e.g. kosher, halal, allergies). Of these 23 students, only 6 (26.1%) find it difficult or very difficult to obtain appropriate food at or around Dawson College. This shows that students have access to a large variety of food.

Unfortunately, the survey I conducted reveals that some Dawson College students are food insecure. For instance, 54.5% of respondents skip meals or feel they do not eat enough at least two out of five school days per week, and most of these students skip meals or feel this way at least three out of five school days per week in an average week. More than one in ten respondents (11.5%) feel that there are limited food options at and around Dawson College. Also, a significant 30.3% of respondents feel there are limited affordable food options at and around Dawson College. Having access to nutritious food is an important aspect of being food secure. Sadly, 28.2% of respondents find it difficult or very difficult to obtain nutritious food at and around Dawson College. These are only some of the statistics that display the problem of food insecurity that some students are facing.

There are multiple possible explanations for why a portion of Dawson College students are food insecure. For example, nearly a fifth of the respondents (17.9%) have total yearly household incomes of less than $30,000. Also, 30.8% of respondents are not earning any money which makes them dependent on others (usually their parents) for food and money. Interestingly, in a few categories, females demonstrated higher rates of food insecurity than males. Only 4.5% of male respondents feel there are limited food options, compared to 14.5% of female respondents who feel this way (the gender non-conforming student did not fall in this category). Also, 22.7% of male respondents feel there are limited affordable food options, compared to 30.9% of female respondents (the gender non-conforming student also fell in this category). In addition, time management may be a factor of food insecurity, because some students may find it difficult to find the time to go buy food between classes or to prepare a lunch. Only slightly over half of respondents (53.8%) always or often make their own lunches from the food they have at home.

Surprisingly, household income did not have a significant effect on food security among the respondents. The household income categories were divided into five groups: households earning $200,000 or more, households earning $90,000 to $199,999, households earning $60,000 to $89,999, households earning $30,000 to $59,999, and households earning less than $30,000. The mean results for each income category demonstrate that respondents in the $90,000 to $199,999 category find it most difficult to obtain nutritious food, while those in the lowest income category find it easiest to obtain nutritious foods at or near the school. Also, although the lowest income category feel there are the least food options around the college, the second to lowest income category feel there are the most options compared to other respondents. Moreover, the students who tend to skip meals or feel they did not eat enough, most often fell in the highest income category, while those in the second to lowest income category were least likely to skip meals or feel they had not eaten enough during a school day. As expected, respondents in the $90,000 to $199,999 category most often feel there are affordable food options, while respondents in the $30,000 to $59,999 category feel that the affordable options are more limited. Lastly, respondents in the $30,000 to $59,999 income category most often have enough of the foods they want to eat, and those in the lowest income category more often did not have enough to eat or did not have the kinds of foods they wanted. These results demonstrate that having a higher household income does not increase food security among Dawson College students.

Several methods can be used to increase food security among Dawson College students. One possibility is the creation of a group or club whose objective is to build and maintain the Dawson College community’s food security agenda. This type of group can be beneficial in many ways. For example, people can contribute ideas of how to deal with students’ concerns about food insecurity, and their “dialogue forces other people to consider the ideas and opinions of others as they create a vision for the future of their community food system” (McCullum, et al. 190). Likewise, Freudenberg and colleagues conducted research on the Healthy CUNY initiative and found that “policies on… campus food, enrollment of needy students in public food… assistance programs, and a dialogue on the role of health in academic achievement are first steps towards healthier universities” (Freudenberg, et al. 422). Implementing similar policies at Dawson College can help increase food security. Furthermore, Fram and colleagues recommend educating school staff about food insecurity, assessing the students’ risk for food insecurity, “and responding to food insecurity through holistic and strengths-based approaches” (Fram, et al. 231). Essentially, instead of assuming the solution to food insecurity is to provide students with food, the school should consider the causes of the students’ food insecurity.

Presently, Dawson College has some strategies for improving the food security of students. For instance, the edible gardens project takes place on three rooftops at Dawson College. The goal of this project is “to bring fresh, healthy, affordable and locally grown food to the Dawson Community” (“Edible Rooftop Gardens- Dawson Gardens”). Students and staff help manage the edible gardens and learn about gardening in the process. Heynen and colleagues demonstrate the benefit of urban agriculture, explaining that the elimination of distance between producers and consumers of the food increases “freedom,… independence and culture in the food system (Heynen et al. 307). In the past, some of this produce was distributed to Dawson College students through a program called Dawson Dining. This program supplied Dawson College students with free vegetarian lunches three days of the week. Unfortunately, this program does not exist anymore. The results of the survey I conducted show that this program was not very popular among students. Only 16.9% of respondents (who attended the school when Dawson Dining existed) have ever eaten one of their lunches. Also, only 55.1% of respondents have heard of Dawson Dining. Perhaps the food was not enjoyable or the program was not promoted well. Other schools in Montreal have shown that similar initiatives can flourish. A great example is Concordia University’s People’s Potato, which offers free vegan meals every school day.

Ultimately, Dawson College students are predominately food secure, but there are some students who are food insecure. Through different approaches, hopefully the amount of food insecure students can decrease. At a school of students surrounded by multiple food options they can afford, it is easy to forget that food insecurity is a problem. The fact that most Dawson College students are food secure should not prevent people from addressing food insecurity on campus, because it is an issue that some students face. Initiatives like the edible gardens are first steps to improving this issue, but there are many other steps that can be taken in the future.

To view the detailed results of the survey, please click here.

Works Cited

“Edible Rooftop Gardens – Dawson Gardens”. Dawsoncollege.qc.ca. N.p., 2016. Web. 28 Nov. 2016.

FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations). 2010. “Hunger.” <fao.org/hunger/en>

Fram, Maryah Stella, et al. “Roles For Schools And School Social Workers In Improving Child Food Security.” Children & Schools36.4 (2014): 231-239. Academic Search Complete. Web. 28 Nov. 2016.

Freudenberg, Nicholas, et al. “Promoting The Health Of Young Adults In Urban Public Universities: A Case Study From City University Of New York.” Journal Of American College Health 61.7 (2013): 422-430. Academic Search Complete. Web. 28 Nov. 2016.

Heynen, Nik, Hilda E. Kurtz, and Amy Trauger. “Food Justice, Hunger And The City.” Geography Compass 6.5 (2012): 304-311. Academic Search Complete. Web. 28 Nov. 2016.

Mccullum, Christine, et al. “Agenda Setting Within A Community-Based Food Security Planning Process: The Influence Of Power.” Journal Of Nutrition Education & Behavior 35.4 (2003): 189. Academic Search Complete. Web. 28 Nov. 2016.

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