March 5, 2020Print | PDF
Good afternoon everyone and thank you for attending our third annual Women’s Day Luncheon.
This is a terrific partnership between our local International Women’s Forum and Wilfrid Laurier University
My thanks to Mary D’Alton, IWF member and former member of the Laurier Board of Governors for agreeing to moderate today, and to our terrific group of panelists as well: alumna Wendi Campbell from the Food Bank of Waterloo Region, and Laurier faculty members Dr. Alison Blay-Palmer from the Laurier Centre for Sustainable Food Systems, and Dr. Kathy Absolon, who is also an alumna, from the Laurier Centre for Indigegogy.
As President of Wilfrid Laurier University, I’m thrilled to host this event once again.
Last year, our IWD event theme was about women and leadership in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math)—a fitting theme for Waterloo Region. This year, our theme is on the contributions of women to thriving communities focused on the importance of food and food security—culturally, locally and globally.
Last year I talked a bit about how important my dad was to my development as a scientist. This year, I have been reflecting on the influence my mom has been and how that links to today’s theme around food.
My mom grew up on a farm. This farm, actually, in what was called “the back woods” of rural New Brunswick.
To give you some idea about what rural life was like in the ‘40s and ‘50s, living on the farm meant three generations dependent not just on the farm, but that my grandfather had to work away from home in logging camps in the winter, and my grandmother taught grades 1-8 in one-room school houses, to make the farm and family, in today’s lingo “sustainable”.
It was a life focused on family, the support of neighbours, and hard work.
The cash crop was potatoes—sold to a now-global company I’m sure you’re all familiar with (and maybe even from where you get your potatoes in the form of French fries), McCain’s.
It also meant my mom living without electricity and refrigeration for much of her years growing up, and the family surviving on root vegetables and the products of the farm for the winter.
For high school, my mom had to leave home and move to town and board with strangers as the local one-room school only went to grade 8.
My mom was denied a bursary when she applied to university in 1960, as a first generation student, as the university didn’t believe her application that a family could live on as little cash income as she claimed.
And in fact, those family farms are mostly gone now as they weren’t actually sustainable with the land, still growing potatoes, owned for corporate farming.
So what did I learn from my mom and my grandparents? I learned about resilience and the ability to adapt, the importance of family and community, the impact of education (especially for first generation students), and in terms of today’s topic, appreciating the value of the food on our plates and the effort it took to get it there.
But even if growing up on the farm was challenging, my mom is the first to say there was always enough to eat. And that’s not everyone’s story.
According to the Food Insecurity Research Institute at the University of Toronto, food insecurity impacts one in eight households across Canada. That’s four million Canadians who don’t get enough sustenance.
These families are urban, they’re rural, and they live on reserves. Their children go to our schools and our universities.
By the numbers, -- one million children don’t get enough to eat in Canada, one of the wealthiest nations on Earth.
Food insecurity comes in three forms. The first is considered marginal, which is when someone worries about running out of food or having a limited food selection due to a lack of money or options.
The second is moderate and describes a situation in which a person compromises every meal’s quality and quantity out of necessity due to limited resources.
And last is severe food insecurity, in which someone is forced to miss meals, reduce food intake, and at an extreme, go days without food.
In Canada, all three of these conditions disproportionately affect households led by single women-identifying parents, who are especially vulnerable to income instability.
One-third of these households face some form of food insecurity every day.
And food insecurity isn’t confined to those receiving social assistance.
More than 60% of food-insecure households rely on wages and salaries as their main source of income, demonstrating that individuals with low-wage jobs and precarious work often don’t have enough income to maintain their nutrition and health.
In fact, the latest research from Health Canada ties food insecurity to a host of healthcare and social challenges that in turn reinforce the causes of food insecurity.
Adults living in food-insecure households report poorer physical health and are more vulnerable to chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and hypertension.
And, they have found a particularly strong relationship between food insecurity and mental health, especially among children. For children, food insecurity can lead to health problems and challenges of inattention and developmental delays that can lead to educational deficits.
And these will all have life-long impacts on individuals and society.
Ultimately, food insecurity, much like housing insecurity, is a symptom of wider economic challenges in our communities and across our country.
As mentioned, one group of the food insecure is university students.
They are at a particularly high risk of food insecurity due to a number of contributing factors, including unavailability of healthy food, high academic stress and time pressure, financial burdens, and living away from home for the first time.
A few years ago, at Laurier, a working group was brought together to undertake the Food Insecurity Assessment Study to evaluate the condition of food security among our students.
They found that around 30% of our students experienced moderate food insecurity and 17% experienced severe food insecurity.
The populations of students that are most vulnerable to food insecurity include the following, many of which are intersecting:
A number of recommendations also came from the study.
To address the non-financial recommendations, we now include more training on our campuses in essential life skills such as budgeting, time management, meal planning, and simple cooking. These are the easier challenges for universities to tackle.
More importantly, identifying students who need access to greater financial resources is the larger systemic challenge for Laurier and other universities and the broader community.
Now, these resources can be addressed in a number of ways, including:
There is also great work happening on our Laurier campuses that combines our institutional goal of providing an outstanding student academic experience with individual nutrition and health outcomes.
These include the weekly soup lunches hosted by our amazing Indigenous Student Centres in Brantford and Waterloo, where all students and members of the community are welcome to enjoy a free meal of soup and bannock.
The Students’ Union Food Bank is available to supplement the nutritional and dietary needs of students on our Brantford and Waterloo campuses. This complimentary service allows students to have a limited number of hot meals and food parcels delivered to them each term.
The large community garden at our Northdale campus in Waterloo hosts numerous community partners such as Young City Growers, KW Urban Harvesters, and Patchwork Community Gardens.
Our community gardeners work hard during the spring and summer months to cultivate the land and grow hyper-local produce for the Laurier community to enjoy at farmer’s markets and our own Veritas Café, run by our Graduate Students’ Association.
And for students struggling with managing their nutrition, the Student Wellness Centres offer access to a registered dietitian who can provide assessments and support on everything from meal plans to shopping lists.
In addition to the support we provide our students to address food insecurity challenges, our academic programs, research activities, and external partnerships address food security and its role in thriving communities, including cultural and medicinal uses.
Alison and Kathy are representative of the work of our faculty, staff and students on these topics and I look forward to their contributions here today.
Laurier is also proud to support food insecurity needs in the broader community. For instance, this May will mark the 11th year of our annual ‘Empty Bowls’ fundraiser.
This popular event gives participants the opportunity to purchase handmade bowls from the Waterloo Potters’ Workshop and share a meal of soup in the Robert Langen Art Gallery on our Waterloo campus.
Over the years, this event has raised nearly $40,000 for the Food Bank of Waterloo Region, which represents nearly 120,000 meals for people in need. That’s a lot of bowls being filled!
I look forward to hearing Wendi speak more about local challenges and the work of the Food Bank of Waterloo Region.
Laurier is also a proud partner of the Brant United Way and United Way Waterloo Region Communities and the outstanding work they do to address poverty and promote strong neighbourhoods.
Our annual United Way fundraising drive is supported across the entire university and is one of our most successful community outreach initiatives.
There is no doubt this is a challenging topic. One with many root causes as well as opportunities for solutions. So I have a challenge for you.
As we listen to the panel, I would encourage everyone here to think about how through your actions as individuals, and in your capacity as a member of an organization, you can help create the kinds of partnerships, relationships, and programs that lead to greater food security in aid of sustaining thriving communities.
Thank you for being here today, I’m looking forward to our discussion.
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