New society fighting food insecurity campaigns for levy

The King’s Food Security Initiative is campaigning for a $3 levy.

If passed, it will go towards funding a food pantry on campus. The fee, $1.50 per semester, would increase with the consumer price index (CPI) to accommodate for increased food costs. As Canadian prices change, so would the levy.

Students can vote for the referendum in the upcoming King’s Student Union elections slated for Oct. 5 and 6. 

Why $3?

“I didn’t want to be asking students for too much when this is a service for them,” said co-lead Cassandra Burbine. “We wanted to start out with $3 because I’m confident that if we budget smartly and access community gardens and that sort of thing, we can make it work for that amount of money.” 

Last year, Burbine and co-lead David J. Shuman talked about doing something to combat food insecurity at King’s. The initiative snowballed from their conversations.

“Food insecurity among students has always been an issue,” Burbine said. “With the stress of COVID, it became even more apparent.”

It wasn’t the first time she’d thought about food security. In high school, Burbine started a food pantry for students.

“I care about food security a lot,” she said. “It’s something that’s always been on my mind, that was on my mind when I came to university.”

But what she discovered at King’s surprised her.

“I didn’t expect to see the same need reflected back to me,” Burbine said. “And when I did, I realized, ‘Oh, let’s try that again!’”

With the King’s Food Security Initiative (KFSI), Burbine’s goal was to create a “more King’s-centric” support. Although King’s students have access to Dal services like the student union’s food bank and the Loaded Ladle, she says challenges with campus familiarity and proximity may prevent students from using them.

Zia Shirtliffe, the initiative’s historian, agreed.

“It is something that should have a society dedicated to it,” they said. “And not just be on the outskirts of other societies.”

Gauging need

To determine need, Burbine studied research from Cassandra Hayward, a King’s alumnae who graduated in 2019. Hayward’s undergraduate thesis analyzed student food security at King’s. 

Of the 126 students that participated in the study, 30 per cent identified being food insecure all the time. That’s almost four times more than the national average (8.8 per cent). 74 per cent of the 126 students identified being food insecure during “stressful academic periods.”

The study revealed that time contributes to this food insecurity. 64 per cent of students “identified that it is either often or very often [an] issue to find time to prepare food.” 54 per cent “identified that it is often or very often an issue to find time to shop for food.”

The KFSI created a survey to further determine need, which received 50 responses. What they revealed reinforced Hayward’s findings.

“The main thread is that time and access seem to be the things that are deterring people more than income,” Burbine said. “Income is an issue. But the main thing is not knowing how to access food, not having the means and the time to make food.”

Food security goes beyond affording groceries. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, food security encompasses four dimensions: availability, access, utilization and stability. Food security means having financial, physical and socio-cultural access to adequate amounts of nutritious food constantly. The actualization of food security relies on all four components existing simultaneously.

For students, this isn’t always possible. Moving to Halifax means not knowing where grocery stores are, at least initially. Back-to-back classes limit time for meals in between. Budgeting restricts how much and what food students can buy.

“We all need food,” said Burbine, “and for some reason, as university students, that is a very hard need to obtain.”

Supporting students 

The KFSI plans to use the survey feedback to tailor programming addressing students’ needs. The initiative is also organizing an anonymous (COVID-permitting) food box, where students can pick up snacks, non-perishable food items and hygiene products.

Besides the levy, the initiative will seek funding from grants and donations from other organizations.

Burbine emphasizes that the initiative is for anyone who needs it.

“The main thing with food security that really highlights what a problem it is, is that so many people don’t access services because they don’t think they’re for them,” she said. “So I really hope that students see this and they see that this is for them.”

“I’m hoping that we can just be a place that if someone’s struggling, they can just come talk to us about food security.”

Students seeking support or looking to get involved with the initiative can message the KFSI on Instagram, Twitter or by email, at

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