So what are the backstories that led to the development of Solidarity Food Movement?
Students facing food insecurity! Here’s one story that started me on this path. It happened a few semesters before I took Satoshi’s class.
During my first year as an undergrad at Concordia, I had to do group work for an anthropology course. There were three of us in our group and we had to do a project on a linguistic minorities in the Montreal area. My group met on several occasions on campus and occasionally at a cafe or restaurant. I noticed that one of my group members never ordered anything. One time, our meeting on campus was taking longer than we planned and this same group member got irritable and rushed things to leave. She was usually pretty friendly and into our work so it struck me as odd.
The next time we met it was a lunch meeting at The Green Panther (La Panthère Verte), a restaurant beside Concordia that serves fresh vegan food. Again, the same group member did not order anything so I offered (actually, I insisted) to treat her to lunch. By this time, we knew each other better and I said as delicately as I could that I noticed she never ordered (or ate) anything at our meetings. She told me the following details about her life with flushed cheeks and eyes lowered: that she is an out-of-province student so her tuition is more expensive (than students from Quebec) and since she does not speak French, she had difficulty finding work here. She returns home out west each summer to work but saves that money for her rent and living expenses. Her family cannot afford to help her out. Trouble was, she only had enough left to pay her rent for the rest of the semester (and little or no money for food). She admitted that she was embarrassed about how she acted the last time we met but she was stressed about leaving to get in line for the People’s Potato because many days that is the only meal she has.
I was deeply disturbed by this but I knew how hard it was for her to admit. I quietly bought extra food and before we left the restaurant and offered it to her to take home. She nearly cried from the mix of embarrassment and gratitude. After that, I was on a mission to find out what resources there were for students facing food insecurity. I knew about the people’s potato but what else was there?
Here is what I found out: A student or community member could get lunch from the People’s Potato at downtown Concordia on weekdays for a donation or for free if needed. They also gave out groceries during exam weeks and special occasions. (Shortly after this, the Hive Free Lunch at Loyola also started). There was also an emergency food fund (grocery voucher) at the Multi-Faith and Spirituality Center and a $2.00 vegan meal at Mother Hubbard’s on Thursday nights. I made a list of all of the free and affordable food resources at Concordia and nearby.
[Here is a list of affordable food at/near Concordia: https://www.concordia.ca/students/health/topics/nutrition/affordable-food-resourcesinmontreal.html]
I gave the list to my classmate the next time I saw her and nearly begged her to let me know if she ever needed help again. The thing was, the shame she felt was obvious and I knew she was not the kind of person who would “accept charity” from others. I hoped that the resources I gave her would help and I am pretty sure she followed up on them. I also left a copy of the list with the Aboriginal Student Resource Center. The ASRC has a community kitchen that offers tea, coffee, snacks, and occasional meals to students for free. I knew from speaking to some of the students that they truly appreciated it and some relied on it. Although my classmate wasn’t from the center (and not Indigenous), I thought it might help other students to know what kind of support is out there.
This wasn’t the first time I knew people facing food insecurity (hunger, poverty) and it wouldn’t be the last time I heard stories like this from students. I also recalled my own experiences with poverty in my childhood and I knew the shame of it all too well. I wished there was something more I could do but I revisited these thoughts later on.