A response to the publicized UOSU Food Bank document from a user’s perspective
The Fulcrum has decided to allow this contributor to write as an anonymous source for privacy reasons. Content warning: Eating disorders
In light of the recent University of Ottawa Student Union (UOSU) Food Bank negligence involving the public access of private information on food bank users, we are reminded of the ingrained problem of food insecurity within universities.
To say personal information was leaked would be reductive of the mixture of shock, shame, and humiliation myself and the other 110 individuals have felt as a result of the negligent actions of UOSU. For me, being made aware of the public access to my past [and] private decisions was a nagging reminder of a lonely, vulnerable period in my life, of which I would rather not repeat.
I have the privilege of only recently being reminded of my experience with food insecurity. I am a white woman; now with a job, a solid network of support, and access to numerous resources that provide help when I need them. I am no longer dealing with food insecurity, and for this, I have a deep gratitude.
Obviously, this is not the universal experience. The sheer number of those experiencing food insecurity is notoriously underrepresented, if even represented at all. As explained in a number of studies, the undergraduate is the invisible demographic of food insecurity, as their presence in post-secondary institutions affords them a level of perceived privilege. As much as being a university student is truly a privilege, there is a cultural attitude, both inside and off-campus, that normalizes (and even romanticizes) some degree of malnourishment-struggle for students. Through understanding the entrenched presence of marginal to severe food security, we can begin to identify the unique features of university life that enable and normalize a state of food insecurity.
In any post-secondary studies, we see some variation of the same attitude encouraged by fellow students and peers alike. Terms like ‘hustle culture’ and ‘the starving student’ are common phrases informally thrown around to reflect our inclination towards often-destructive levels of productivity. Whether or not you subscribe to this mentality, it undeniably affects the way in which we see our value tied to our labour. One specific variation of this attitude is the Stanford duck syndrome, which paints a seemingly contradictory picture of a duck on the water — smoothly floating on the surface, but invisibly struggling underneath. What is even more contradictory is this notion’s presence within universities; wealthy institutions are being sustained by the labour of their pressure-cooked students.
I bring this up not to blame students for our experiences with food insecurity, but to cast a light on the toxic thinking we’ve been encouraged to subscribe to as university students. This mindset exacerbates our eating disorders, our mental illnesses, and our financial insecurities. It is directly related to our campuses’ lack of physical and financial accessibility to healthy food. Worst of all, it’s this mindset that rewards self-destruction and burnout and tells us it was worth it. I found myself in this position; avoiding grocery shopping, working through breakfast and lunch so I could trick myself into eating a single meal a day, until I eventually started identifying this behaviour with ‘good budgeting’ and a ’strong work ethic.’ Self-spiralling aside, we must acknowledge our own destructive thinking and recognize our vulnerabilities, because we owe it to ourselves to ask for help.
When I registered with the UOSU Food Bank, I felt ashamed to have reached out. I felt as though I was a failure, that I should have managed my money better, and, admittedly dramatically, convinced myself it was never going to get better. Moving forward, I found a job, worked until I balanced the overdraft in my account, and have since been fortunate enough to leave my experiences with food insecurity behind me. But even now, I find myself constantly having to be reminded that I am not simply the sum of the work I produce, and that my capacity for labour does not outweigh my basic human need for health.
It’s important to mention — I never heard back from the UOSU Food Bank, and I never received my requested food box. I think this is an apt reflection of the quality of support networks provided by the university and the student union. Even more so, it speaks to the systemic gaps in our post-secondary systems that perpetuate the stigma of food insecurity. As stated before, as it bears repeating: we owe it to ourselves to ask for help, but we are also owed adequate support from the schools who have thrusted most of us into debt and self-sabotaging workaholic behaviours.
So, where do we go from here? We need more than 100 or so year-long subscriptions to Equifax as some attempt at damage control, because the campus’ problem with food insecurity extends beyond their previously-public list of individuals. What we fundamentally need as a student body is comprehensive education, support, and confidentiality (!) for those experiencing food insecurity. How exactly can this be achieved? I implore the student union and the university administration to thoughtfully consider this question, ideally without doxxing their patrons this time.
If you are in need of help, reach out to one of these local food bank services in Ottawa:
Ottawa Food Bank: https://www.ottawafoodbank.ca
Sandy Hill Community Health Centre: https://www.shchc.ca
Lowertown Community Resource Centre: https://crcbv.ca
Dalhousie Food Cupboard: https://www.dalhousiefoodcupboard.ca
Centretown Emergency Food Centre: http://cefcottawa.org
Vanier Community Service Centre: https://www.cscvanier.com/en/communtity/food-bank
Parkdale Food Centre: https://parkdalefoodcentre.ca
Rideau-Rockcliffe Community Resource Centre: https://www.crcrr.org
Heron Emergency Food Centre: https://www.hefc.ca
Debra Dynes Family House: http://debradynes.ncf.ca
Banff Community House: https://banffcommunityhouse.ca
Confederation Court Community House: http://www.confederationcourt.com
Care Centre Ottawa: https://www.carecentreottawa.ca