UBC Undergraduate Research

Increasing Access to Sustainable Food on Campus Lin, Jason; Sauer, Cassi; Sum, Kyle; Tan, Sean; Zeng, George


Canadians are taking a greater interest in sustainably sourced food due to the growing connection with human and planetary health (Kramer et al., 2019). University students not only want access to healthy, affordable food options, they also care about the sustainability and social justice of their food (Farm to Cafeteria Canada, 2021). In tandem with a desire to consume sustainable food is the challenge of food security. In a 2019 survey, it was determined that 37% of University of British Columbia (UBC) Vancouver Campus’ undergraduate student population was food insecure (UBC, 2020a), almost four times the provincial average of 12% recorded in 2018 (Tarasuk & Mitchell, 2020). More specifically, it has been well documented that financial access to healthy food has proven to be difficult for students on the UBC campus (Chua et. al., 2019). As one way to address food insecurity and access to sustainable food on campus, a student-initiated referendum was passed in 2018 with an 85% majority vote in favor of a Sustainable Food Access Fund (SFAF). The purpose of the SFAF is to increase the affordability at four sustainable food outlets on campus - Agora Café, UBC Sprouts, Roots on the Roof and UBC Farm. The fund allows these initiatives to continue to provide low-cost food to students and increase sourcing from campus food producers. Currently, the AMS Finance team has identified the need to reassess the fund for the first time, including the value of the fund, its efficacy in meeting fund objectives, and opportunities to enhance and expand the fund objectives. Therefore, the purpose of this study is to enhance and expand student’s access to equitable, just, and sustainable food through assessing and providing recommendations for scaling up the AMS SFAF. The objectives of this study are to: (1) Conduct an assessment of the efficacy of the fund, including a baseline of how it has been used to date, perceptions of the fund among fund constituents and recipients; (2) Conduct a review of literature that identifies promising practices of increasing affordability and accessibility of sustainable food at other institutions; (3) Propose a scaling up of the SFAF that honours initial SFAF instigators and recipients of the SFAF while targeting specific policies in the AMS Sustainability Action Plan. Through Community Based Action Research (CBAR), the proposed research included all affected stakeholders as active participants (Nasrollahi, 2015). An inclusive environment where all stakeholders’ voices matter serves as a catalyst in the research process as we worked toward a common goal of addressing food insecurity and access to sustainable food on campus. Stakeholders involved in this project include initial referendum members, SFAF initiatives, and the general UBC student population. Data collection consisted of general surveys and interviews with the above-mentioned stakeholders to better understand the awareness, use and experience with the SFAF from various perspectives. Additionally, a literature review was conducted regarding food access funds available to students in other post-secondary institutions across Canada to identify similar programs for comparison. Such evidence was used to further support the importance and need for the SFAF at UBC. We found the SFAF to be successful in allowing the initiatives involved in the fund to purchase food from local food sources and to provide student discounts. However, there were some challenges with the SFAF including institutional memory, communication with the AMS and student awareness. Based on our findings our immediate recommendation for the AMS is to establish a SFAF committee to improve communication and collaboration between the food initiatives and the AMS. Our intermediate recommendation is to expand fund restrictions beyond food purchasing and to increase student awareness of the fund. Finally, in the long term we propose there to be an incremental fee increase up to $5.00 over five years. In addition to our recommendations, as we were unable to review the MOU, further research on the MOU would give clarity on whether the SFAF is still meeting the needs of all stakeholders. Disclaimer: “UBC SEEDS provides students with the opportunity to share the findings of their studies, as well as their opinions, conclusions and recommendations with the UBC community. The reader should bear in mind that this is a student project/report and is not an official document of UBC. Furthermore readers should bear in mind that these reports may not reflect the current status of activities at UBC. We urge you to contact the research persons mentioned in a report or the SEEDS Coordinator about the current status of the subject matter of a project/report.”

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