As the need for resources increases so does scrutiny online
Like all those with mouths to feed, I have been affected by rising food and grocery costs. It seems like every time I return to the grocery store the prices have doubled. Even the cheap staples I’ve purchased for years are priced like luxury items.
Never having to worry about being able to afford my next meal has been a privilege of mine. But as someone who consumes a lot of food and tries to prioritize healthy choices, more and more of my budget is being allocated towards my food bill. With so many expenses as a student who lives away from home, it can be a struggle to stay afloat.
Luckily, as residents of an affluent society, we have access to resources like food banks here in Canada. However, as food prices continue to rise, I’ve been seeing more — oftentimes angry — discourse online about who food banks are really for.
As usual, I found myself browsing Reddit the other day. I was recommended a post from one of the many different Canada-centric subreddits that I thought was for harmless discussion about housing. My mistake there.
The post criticized a YouTube video that had gained quite a bit of traction titled “How to get free food in Canada for international students” posted by a YouTuber named Samar Jeet Singh.
I will admit, when I first saw that title, I did feel a reactionary pang of anger that people would take advantage of a system meant for the less fortunate. But after a few seconds of further reading and critical thinking, I realized how misplaced my negative feelings were.
The people commenting, however, had some very strong thoughts to share. It seems almost like the internet is regressing in ways. Whether it be Instagram, Twitter, or Reddit, casual racism feels like the norm and the commentary on this video is no exception.
I cannot understand what Singh is saying in his video because I can only speak English, but he clarified a few things in the comments. He explains that he is getting the free food in question from his university’s food hamper, which is funded by the university specifically for students. This is similar to the UVSS food bank and free store, which is offered for UVic students and their families.
If you search “how to get free food in Canada” on YouTube, you will find many videos similar to Singh’s made by international students. I’m sure not all of these videos are perfectly ethical; abusing generous systems such as food banks when you truly don’t need to is not cool.
However, this trend hints at a greater structural problem where students, particularly international students, are struggling to put food on the table. Even if not all of these people need financial help, are a few random people online doing greedy things an excuse to be racist and xenophobic? Well, if you need to think about your answer for that, I suggest you reflect on your own prejudices.
One Reddit comment read that international students are “devastating food banks to feed themselves.” I couldn’t find any stats to back this up, only angry reactionary content toward Singh’s video and others like it. To me, it does make sense that international students — who pay nearly five times as much tuition as I do — would be looking for ways to help get food on the table. If food banks are meant to support those experiencing food insecurity, why can’t international students fit this definition?
No one should have to prove their poverty just to receive help. Of the people using food banks in Canada, one in seven are employed, and I’m sure that number is only going to increase as the cost of living continues to rise.
Food insecurity is a very real issue that affects people everywhere, yet here in Canada I feel like there is a strong stigma around asking for help and using the services we have in place.
Calling out behaviour that preys on generosity is fine, but it is not an excuse to be blatantly xenophobic.
It’s likely that food costs will continue to rise, and that will probably mean more and more people accessing services like food banks. I have a lot of frustration and anger toward the system we live in that makes it difficult to simply pay for the basics, and I’m sure many others feel that way. But taking that frustration and anger out on other people suffering from the same system isn’t helpful nor productive. If you have anyone to be vocal about hating, it is the corporations that are using inflation as an excuse to profit off of struggling people.