Smashing the stigmas of food insecurity, one bowl of soup at a time.

Before starting at Humber College I was unfamiliar with the concept of food insecurity; even now those words seem so foreign to me. When I think about the concept of food insecurity, my mind immediately travels first to homelessness – people struggling to feed themselves on a daily basis – or perhaps single families trying to make ends meet. I never would have thought that your average student would fit this description. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. According to Maclean’s Magazine, in collaboration with Meal Exchange, 38.2% of students reported some level of food insecurity. 11% of the students surveyed had accessed a food bank at least once in the previous year.

As part of IGNITE’s ongoing student outreach initiative, we spoke with students and the feedback we received was overwhelming. Students told us they struggle with ways to make school more affordable. We responded to these concerns by bringing a pay-what-you-can soupbar to campus.

Following the launch, I travelled over to the North Campus to check out the soupbar for myself. The gravity of the initiative was felt immediately by just walking in the room. There was a very long lineup of students waiting to access the service, much longer than I had anticipated.

students lined up for the soup bar

Upon asking for students opinions, one thing became apparent—they love the idea.

“I’m impressed by it. I’m really proud of Humber for doing this. It shows they are taking care of their students and finding out a way to feed people,” said Sharon, a graduate of the Cosmetic Management program.

“There’s not a lot of great choices here that are healthy and stuff like that. I saw someone eating pizza at 9 a.m. this morning and that’s not what students who are learning should be eating,” Bradley Miles, of the Media Communications program, told me when I approached him.

The importance of this service cannot be understated. In the first day alone the soupbar fed more than 425 students. By the end of the first week, over 625 students were fed. We hope that as the initiative grows and students become more familiar with the soupbar that we’ll be able to serve over 900 soups per week!

three soup wells sitting side by side

One of the incredible partners that helps bring this program to life is Feed it Forward. Founded by Chef Jagger, their mission statement is to help food insecure Canadians get access to nutritious food, with the help of produce donated by local businesses and restaurants that would otherwise be destined for landfill. Feed it Forward has spearheaded many pay-what-you-can food initiatives all over the city, including other soupbar locations and a pay-what-you-can grocery store.

Speaking to Chef Jagger, a few things really struck me. “So I feed about 200-300 people a day (at other locations), and primarily most of my audience is youth, students that are in the area, and a lot of struggling single families. […] Continuously I started noticing the ample amount of people who are in need, especially students and youth,” he said.

man serving soup into a bowl

Other students also didn’t hesitate to get behind Chef Jagger’s message. “Yeah it’s a big issue, we’re learning about that in school right now. It’s a widespread problem that people tend to overlook, and I think with this initiative we are taking it one step at a time to fix that problem as a whole,” said Jayden Conetten, a Justice Studies student at UofGH.

“I feel food insecurity does affect a lot of students, even though people might not think so, it just gives students a chance to go without judgement with so many people joining in this initiative. I find it will help out a lot of people avoid a lot of the stigmas around being food insecure,” said another student.

I felt it myself as I was wandering around the space. Overwhelmed by the amazing smells and people enjoying the food, I knew I had to try to soups for myself…but something was holding me back at first. What really struck me about the soupbar was how it doesn’t simply feed students, but also works to break down the stigma of being food insecure. Knowing that there are hundreds of students, just like me, who want to utilize the soupbar to save money made me feel like I wasn’t alone.  

soup bar donation box

“The pay-what-you-can system also is an initiative to show people how we can pay-it-forward, or pay as little as you need to for that meal so you can work on your scholastics rather than focus on how you’re going to pay for your next meal,” Chef Jagger continued.

Trying to balance school and work can be extremely tough. A struggle I know all too well. Too many students will skip out on assignments or readings because of conflicting work schedules. However many times the alternative is to live in a constant state of food insecurity. This is especially prevalent with students who live in off-campus accommodations, where rental prices are sky high.

soup bowls piled on top of each other in uniform stacks

The soupbar is a pilot project operating every Tuesday and Thursday between the hours of 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., located in the LinX building at North Campus. However, the program plans to expand to the Lakeshore campus if successful. Students hope to see the initiative expanding further, “I would love to see it down at Lakeshore, especially because I know for the geographical area there is a higher homeless population, the demographics are a little different as a whole. Having this reach out not only for students but maybe to the community would be really cool,” said Jayden Conetten.

For more information about Feed-It-Forward, visit their website

Looking for extra ways to save money? Check out 5 ways to save money on campus.

Keep up with the latest from IGNITE, follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat.