Covid-19 has elicited creative solutions to food poverty on Australian campuses, as students — particularly from overseas — find inventive ways to beat hunger.
Foreign students are now reserving refrigerator racks in shared kitchens to deposit leftover food for friends in need. Other stratagems include “clubbing together” to cover membership costs at bulk food retailers such as Costco warehouse stores. “You could buy a 100-kilo bag of rice and share it out,” says Craig Jeffrey, professor of human geography at the University of Melbourne. “Or just put stuff out on social media — I’ve got a kilo of rice that I don’t need; that sort of thing,” he says.
According to Jeffrey, the pandemic has fostered a unified front, as media coverage put the spotlight on privations endured disproportionately by international students. “Because the issue became more public, and people are talking about it, they became more aware of other people suffering the same problem. So there are more coordinated efforts,” adds Jeffrey.
Foreign students have long struggled to meet the expensive costs of living in Australia. Covid amplified hardship by forcing many out of the hospitality and retail jobs they needed to support themselves, as restaurants, cafes and shops shuttered. With no family homes to retreat to, and barred from receiving the JobKeeper wage subsidies and JobSeeker unemployment benefits that sustain their domestic counterparts, some international students are in dire straits.
But the tradition of student hunger stretches long before Coronavirus. Studies in 2014 in Queensland and Victoria found that food insecurity afflicted one-quarter to almost one-half of students. But with the scant research into the issue mainly limited to occasional surveys, Prof. Jeffrey and Melbourne colleagues devised a qualitative study that was conceived before Covid’s emergence but undertaken under pandemic conditions. Interviews with 90 students at six Victorian universities found that daily hunger pangs were a common experience that left participants sluggish and detached, affecting their mental and physical health.
But pandemic privations have also created common cause, as locals become increasingly aware of their foreign peers’ adversities. “One of the things we really noticed was domestic students getting worried about international students,” he says. “The care of students one for another is very apparent.”