Food security, asylum seekers and the Food Justice Truck

Since 2012 Deakin University and have funded research for social good – research that may otherwise be sidelined by traditional channels. Fiona McKay, School of Health and Social Development, expands on the current campaign for food security for asylum seekers in a mobile fresh food market, the Food Justice Truck.

Food security for asylum seekers

Many asylum seekers living in the community are unable to access employment, social services and government financial assistance. Such isolation within the community can lead to a number of poor health outcomes, including the experience of food insecurity. Food and nutrition insecurity refers to the inability of a household to access a sufficient quality and quantity of nutritionally adequate and safe foods, or the inability of individuals to acquire foods that are socially or culturally acceptable.

Food insecurity can also exist when some members of a household limit their intake of food to provide more food to other household members, and can exist with or without hunger. There are few regular measures of food insecurity in Australia, the most recent national account of food insecurity suggests that around 5% of Australian households are food insecure.

People seeking asylum and refugees have been identified as at a higher than usual risk of food insecurity. The small amount of research that investigates the food security situation of refugees and asylum seekers has found that key influences of this risk include the conditions accompanying the temporary visas with which this population are granted, most significantly those that restrict financial aid and opportunities for paid work. They also include the limits that are placed on English language classes.

The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC) in Melbourne, is a charitable organisation that works directly with people seeking asylum in providing a range of services, including the provision of material aid, legal assistance, medical care and an onsite Foodbank. Around 3000 people are assisted by these services each year, including around 600 people each week who visits the Foodbank.

food security asylum seeker

Photo by Takver/flickr/cc.

Research My World campaign

Since December 2012 and Deakin University have been working together to create an opportunity for the community funding of university research enterprises. The partnership, called Research my World adopts an ‘all or nothing’ strategy for crowdfunding (projects must meet their projected funding target within a nominated time-frame or lose all the pledged money), seeking to have research funded that has a social good, and that might not otherwise be funded.

Food security and the Food Justice Truck

Getting enough of the right, good quality food to people seeking asylum is important. From a study that we did last year, we know that many asylum seekers have trouble accessing enough food to eat, and even more trouble accessing culturally appropriate foods. In this study, we found that over 90% of asylum seekers were experiencing food insecurity with around half also experiencing hunger – many asylum seekers were only eating two meals each day.

Much of this is compounded by money, or a lack thereof. While some asylum seekers may have access to a reduced welfare payment, around $220 per week, many are unable to access employment, and as a result live in poverty.

The ASRC provides assistance to people seeking asylum and has a number of programs designed to increase food and nutritional security and to reduce hunger. These include a Foodbank, a Community Meals program, and a mobile Food Justice Truck.

The Food Justice Truck is a mobile fresh food market that travels to a number of sites across metropolitan Melbourne. In the 18 months the truck has been up and running, it has served several hundred customers; both people seeking asylum and the general public.

At the moment, we don’t know much about the asylum seekers who are using the truck. We don’t know where they’re from, how long they’ve been in Australia, or if they have a job. We don’t know how many people are being fed by the food bought at the truck each week, we don’t know the other places shoppers are getting their food from, and we don’t know if the Food Justice Truck is meeting all of their needs, nor do we know if anything important is missing from the stock.

This crowdfunding project seeks to answer some of these questions. We are aiming to reach a funding target of $5000 by 7 December 2016 and get started on the research early next year.

Once we better understand the needs of those using the Food Justice Truck, we will be able to better cater for the variety of needs, make sure we have enough of the right foods, and continue to work toward food security for people seeking asylum.

Anyone wishing to support this campaign, can make a pledge here:

Dr Fiona McKay is a lecturer in the School of Health and Social Development at Deakin University, her research interests include those experiencing forced displacement, issues of refuge and asylum, those experiencing food insecurity, single mothers experiencing financial insecurity, and drug users who struggle to access health services, in the Australian setting and internationally.

Twitter: @feemck

Header image: social enterprise in action/vimeo/

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