Hungry for Income program aims to reframe perspective on food insecurity

Nourish Project Peterborough logo. Image via Nourish Project.

Hungry for Income is a food insecurity training program through the Nourish food organization. The Nourish website says it is aimed at educating people on eating, cooking, and growing food along with addressing challenges in the food landscape.

The Hungry for Income program is designed to reframe the conversation on food insecurity through data driven presentations, activities and exploring policy options. Food insecurity means not having enough money to buy food. It is a result of inadequate income.

“We’ve been involved in food insecurity work, for… ever,” said Joëlle Favreau, Nourish’s manager. “We feel that the focus is always on programming,” such as short term and emergency food programs. “We’ve been talking a lot about how we can change that conversation.”

Through research conducted by Anne-Sylvie Dasné as part of her honours program under the supervision of Dr. Chris Furgal, it was determined that 48% of full-time Trent University students living away from home were food insecure.

The 48% of students represents 159 of the 331 students who took part in the research. This number is the combined amount of students who are moderately food insecure (32.3%) and students who were severely food insecure (15.7%).

What this research tells us, “It is an issue,” says Dasné.

Dasné, who is currently pursuing her Masters of Eco-Toxicology at McGill University in Montreal says she got in touch with students through college emails, newsletters and directly dropping in on their classes.

“It was amazing and challenging to do that research on food insecurity,” said Dasné.

For students, food insecurity could be detrimental to their performance in the classroom. According to a study by Liberty University which looked at the relationship of nutrition and academic performance, “Adequate and sufficient healthy intake of food is essential to brain function.”

In a study published by the University of Manitoba on food insecurity, researchers found that severely food insecure individuals 47.1% of women and 23.4% of men cited anxiety and affected their concentration in class. Comprehension and the ability to focus are significantly affected by poor nutrition, the study says.

The Hungry for Income training program is separated into three workshops. The first is presenting hard data on the issue that isn’t commonly known. Such as, “half of single mothers in Peterborough being food insecure,” said Elisha Rubacha, a knowledge transfer specialist with Nourish.

The second presentation is taking that data and creating a more experiential learning experience out of it. Each participant takes part in a Monopoly-esque board game. They assign you a role and give you the average amount of money in that role, such as an Ontario Works recipient or a single mother.

“It forces them to think about issues they haven’t thought about,” said Favreau. “Participants said it gave them a new insight.”

While it may not be a lived experience, Rubacha says, “it forces them to make the hard choices between things, like food or medication.”

The third workshop focuses on what can be done to fix this issue through policy.

“At the heart of this, is the issue of income,” said Favreau.

According to the Journal of Nutrition, over one million Canadians receive social assistance. Among the people receiving social assistance, 60.9% are food insecure.

Abraham Maslow, the famous American psychologist known for creating the hierarchy of needs. Maslow breaks down the needs of humans into various levels; safety needs, psychological and physiological needs, love and self actualization. Along with this, Maslow describes the body’s need for food and water. Maslow says if all the needs are unsatisfied, all other needs will fall into the background. “For the chronically and extremely hungry man,” Maslow wrote, “life itself tends to be defined in terms of eating.”

Income seemed to underlie the research done by Dasné as well. “The tricky thing about the food security (questionnaire), it really circles around to if you are able to afford it. Being able to buy and access food,” said Dasné.

Dasné says it is possible the off-campus student face particular difficulties because they have to buy the food, then prep and cook, while on-campus students will always have a meal plan since it is required. Dasné says she used to organize potlucks with her friends, and that sense of community is important in an academic setting.

“When you hear this idea that in order to be able to bring good food to the table, you have to have a job,” Favreau said. “But it’s not any kind of job, because a job at minimum wage requires you to spend 25% of their income on food to eat healthy, and that’s too high, people won’t do that.”

Favreau says the assumption that a job is the best mechanism for people to get out of poverty is no longer true.

“Things have changed since the 80s,” she said. “Jobs are more precarious now.”

One of the policies that is discussed is the idea of basic income. In the 1970s under the Pierre Trudeau government, Canada launched a program called “Mincome” which was a guaranteed annual income distributed in Dauphin, Manitoba.

“What we learned from that, is the rate of hospitalization dropped by 8.5 percent,” she said. “That number is quite significant.”

Nourish in partnership with Artspace will have an exhibit on December 18 at 12 p.m. called the Humans of Basic Income which will showcase a photo series of past participants of the now cancelled Basic Income pilot in Ontario. The photographer, Jessie Golem, will speak at 6 p.m. at Artspace.

“Can you really think clearly when you have to worry about what you eat?” said Favreau.

After the research was conducted, Dasné sent her findings to all the departments and respondents.

“Not sure if people actually read them,” she said with a laugh. “I’m guilty of not reading mass emails sometimes.”

The Trent Central Student Association (TCSA) has a grocery assistance program to assist students in need of financial assistance to buy food. Assistance is offered through gift cards to local grocery stores, and expire after 6 months. Students must apply on the TCSA website to be considered.

Yet it appears many students aren’t aware of this program.

“The TCSA should be more involved,” said Dasné. “Only two students answered that they knew about the grocery assistance program.”

Dasné says it is important that Trent University promote the grocery program more effectively.

In a study on diet quality and academic performance published by the American School Health Association which surveyed 5200 grade 5 students in Nova Scotia, results indicated a clear association with academic performance and poor diet quality. The study stressed the importance of implementing broader investments on school food and nutrition programs for long-term health.

The Hungry for Income training series will resume in the new year. For dates and more information, please contact Joëlle at

Joelle Favreau (left) and Elisha Rubacha of Nourish Project Peterborough. Photo by Austin Andru.