Updated: Apr 18
My name is Monica Bassili and I am a third-year Bachelor of Arts student double majoring in Political Science and Human Geography and Planning. I am not ashamed to say that I am a low-income student. This can often be discouraging and seem like a self-serving statement that victimizes and reduces my identity or it can produce resilience and strength.
Working and studying is not uncommon for students to tackle amidst entering their respective university program, but it ought not to characterize one’s ability to secure and maintain proper nutrition. What has emerged from ‘work and school culture’ is the myth that overextending one’s intellectual, physical, and psychological earning capacities is perfectly acceptable and encouraged. Not only is it encouraged, but if one actively pushes themselves to burnout, this is regarded as a sign of good worth ethic, rather than the neglect of mental and physical health.
Pushing oneself to burnout puts students in the position of compromising their nutrition for the benefit of their studies or their work life. I cannot recall how many half-size Italian Center Shop Panino sandwiches I have consumed during my full-time position in their southside pizzeria, but I can confirm that this diet tremendously affected my mental and physical capacities. A steady diet of bread soaked in olive oil with sliced meat and cheese can only go so far in supporting a student’s capacity to focus in class, complete assignments, and succeed during exam season.
Unfortunately at the time, this was my only opportunity to have any form of nutrition in my diet. Although there was fresh produce 100 meters away from me in another department, a grilled sandwich was the most convenient, and importantly, the cheapest option.
People’s individual dietary decisions are not the problem, rather, the circumstances in which they find themselves manifest in destructive habits. Again, themes of despair and hopelessness emerge, but I would argue that there is hope coming in the form of fresh produce: a solar greenhouse in the heart of the University of Alberta’s North Campus.
The Renewable Energy Design Club has taken the initiative to design and construct a solar greenhouse in East Campus Village for the use, cultivation, and engagement of the university community. The greenhouse will feed students all-year-round, even during Edmonton’s coldest months. Importantly, the food produced is provided at no cost to students, staff, faculty, or campus residents.
I want to emphasize that this is a collective effort by university students, staff, and professionals interested in addressing the nutritional needs of low-income students. For too long students have tirelessly suffered the “success” related to working and studying full-time and have not had the opportunity, access, or availability of fresh produce to maintain a healthy and consistent diet.
The construction of this greenhouse would profoundly change the way low-income students like myself perceive our campus and its inclusivity of all income levels. University is already an isolating place for students who can not afford the time to engage in extracurricular activities, but a solar greenhouse can be an efficient and manageable way for low-income students to engage their campus while simultaneously establishing a pattern of healthy eating.
I am eager to interact with the solar greenhouse following its construction in Spring 2021
and I hope that low-income students can use this resource as a means of manifesting their financial struggles into resiliency and ultimately, strengthening their minds and bodies under intense circumstances.