Going Hungry For A Degree: Meet The 20-Year-Old Who Survives On Pasta And Potatoes

"I have a bunch of hacks that help me get fed here at university" -- for Gaby this includes a largely carbohydrate diet and hunting for free food in order to pay rent.

Gaby Oehlmann is doing her best to get through university, and success at this stage simply means having a roof over her head and access to regular meals.

"It is very difficult, like the uncertainty when you have a casual job you ask yourself will I be able to afford rent this week?" said Oehlmann.

The 20-year-old studies communications at the University of Technology Sydney, and admits her diet "isn't very nutritious." But, she said, it's the only one she can afford.

"It's very hard to get your five veg two fruit, and all that healthy stuff when you're on student budget," she said.

She told ten daily she qualifies for $30 a fortnight in government assistance.

Oehlmann's folks live in regional NSW and although she's considered their dependent, they don't give her money. 

"Not being able to have a very clear budget with a casual job, I can't allocate a certain amount of money to food each week, it's stressful," she told ten daily.

University student Gabrielle Oehlmann IMAGE: Antoinette Lattouf

She lives 30km away from university and pays cheap board to live at a high school where she works as a casual resident assistant.

"This job is a casual job, if I lost that I wouldn't know what to do. I would have to quickly find another job and be able to pay rent and food and get myself to uni.

Oehlmann knows how quickly and easily her situation could deteriorate.

"I'd definitely fall into a position of being insecure."
Homelessness Among Students Is On The Rise

Australia has a well-documented youth homelessness problem and figures released in April show tertiary students represented nearly 10 percent of all homeless Australians.

On the last census night, nearly 11,000 university or TAFE students were homeless.

Of those, 1,117 were living in facilities for the homeless, another 1,073 were couch-surfing and 1,765 were in boarding houses.

Almost 7,000 were living in "severely overcrowded" homes, and dozens were sleeping rough or in cars.

Hunting For Free Food And Other Hacks

Oehlmann's fluctuating income means she lives very frugally and she is unable to save.

ten daily accompanied Oehlmann during a routine trip to the grocery store -- it was over pretty quickly.  The section she spends the least time in is fresh produce.

"My go to is pasta and potatoes they are delicious and oh so cheap... I wouldn't say they were nutritious, but they are affordable."

Oehlmann says she's eaten way too many instant noodle dinners. IMAGE: Taylor Denny

Many of her peers survive on what she calls the "Ramen noodles diet" but she says she's eaten so much of it she has now gone off the taste.

"At uni on Thursday night we have a noodle bar where we get free noodles. You line up and it runs like two hours and you can go and get noodles and vegetables and tofu and it's so good.

"I'm always there at like 5pm on the dot," she said.

READ MORE: 'My Name is Tjae And I Go To School Hungry'

Oehlmann says she often has to prioritise between buying a textbook or a healthy meal.

"It's so annoying when I start semester and have to buy textbooks. When I do have to buy French textbooks they cost like $100 or $200 a pop.

"And its kinda stressful  if I need essentials like toiletries or food and it [textbook costs] adds up and I'm like, oh crap," she said.

READ MORE: The Stockbroker Turned Robin Hood Of Food, Feeding Australia's Hungry

Oehlmann knows she's extra vulnerable by living in Sydney as a media student.

According to Worldwide Cost of Living 2018 Report, Sydney is among the top 10 most expensive cities -- higher than Tokyo, London and New York.

Then there's the glut of uni graduates with law and journalism degrees that can't find a job in their respective fields.

"It is a bit scary that I might graduate and not be able to get a job in a few years time... but it's what I want to do, so it's worth a shot," she said.

Featured Image: Antoinette Lattouf

Contact the authors: alattouf@networkten.com.au and tdenney@networkten.com.au

If you want to help rescue, donate or deliver food to those battling food insecurity contact food relief agencies  Foodbank  or OzHarvest.