Why we shouldn't glorify the 'starving student' stereotype

September 10, 2018
Article Source
Global News

Food is practically synonymous with the university experience: bowls of ramen, cups of Kraft dinner, other similarly cheap and easy items.

Except that norm, that "oh, this is just the starving student thing, students eat ramen, ha ha ha," masks a concerning problem, says Merryn Maynard -- one that only deepens as the new semester wears on and student loans run short.

"This starving student thing is really pervasive," says Maynard, program and operations co-ordinator for Meal Exchange, an organization that tackles food issues on campus.

Maynard explores that perception in a report published recently in the Canadian Journal of Higher Education. In speaking to a group of undergraduate students about how they cope when they have to pick tuition, textbooks or rent over food, she got some troubling responses.

One student said she couldn't afford to pay for every meal so she started sleeping differently in order to deliberately miss breakfast. Another said she couldn't bring herself to buy milk, telling researchers, "I feel like it's splurging for some reason. 'Cause it's so expensive."

It's not a new issue.

In 2016, Meal Exchange published a report called Hungry for Knowledge, revealing that while food insecurity varied widely among students, it was a significant issue for many: two in five students surveyed had experienced it in some severity and most, if not all, post-secondary institutions now have student food banks on campus.

But as Maynard's most recent work -- centred on interviews conducted with more than a dozen undergraduate students studying at the University of Waterloo in Ontario during the 2015/2016 school year -- indicates, some students are shrugging off skipped meals, trips to the campus food bank, and choosing between textbooks and nutrition as yet another part of the student experience.

Read more: Why we shouldn't glorify the 'starving student' stereotype