Canadian Charity Initiatives Challenge Students to Investigate their Food

Through the Good Food Challenge, Meal Exchange is encouraging students to trace the origins of what they eat

The front display of food in the KSA-operated Grassroots Cafe in the Cedar Building on Surrey Campus. (Braden Klassen)

A charity organization called Meal Exchange has started The Good Food Challenge in the hopes of transforming food accessibility and tackling food-related issues across Canadian post-secondary institutions.

“The Good Food Challenge is one of Meal Exchanges’ main programs and its focus is supporting campuses to create more socially just and sustainable food [options on campus],” says Celia White, program coordinator for the Good Food Challenge. “We set standards that are upheld consistently across the country and that are a balance of ambitiousness and achievability, in that they’re standards that are pushing the food system to meet higher goals.”

In total, twenty post-secondary institutions across Canada have agreed to take part in piloting the program. For the past two years, they have held audits and provided feedback to Meal Exchange with information detailing their experience with the Good Food Calculator. By doing this, they were able to determine where their campus food is coming from and whether it meets the good food standards that Meal Exchange has set.

The challenge has two main aspects: the good food calculator and the good food campaign and commitment. The calculator is an online app which students can use to track the origin of their food purchases from the campus cafeteria to determine how “good” or how ethical its production is.

“Based on our pilot campuses, we’re seeing that campuses land somewhere between 1 and 15 per cent good food, and that’s partly because it’s very difficult to trace food back to the source at this point in time in Canada, and because there is a lack of mechanisms for transparency and traceability,” says White.

The campaign and commitment aspect encourages “presidents of campuses across the country to agree to purchasing 20 per cent ‘good food’ by 2025,” according to White.

“We believe that that is totally achievable since many campuses are landing close to 15 per cent,” she says.

In addition to the Good Food Challenge, Meal Exchange has a number of initiatives dedicated to improving food quality and accessibility across the nation. These range from garden networks to food banks and partnerships with other national initiatives such as Farm to Cafeteria Canada.

The organization works with post-secondary institutions, student unions and associations, and student collectives that have expressed interest in getting involved.

While six of the twenty institutions involved with the program are located in B.C., including UBC, UVic, and Langara, there is no formal relationship between Meal Exchange and KPU, the KSA, or any student collective on campus. However, White says that “there have been a few faculty members from [KPU] who sit on the advisory committee and have been integral in developing the standards” of the Good Food Challenge. Still, no KPU students have yet expressed interest in running a “good food” audit.

Shopping for local or organic produce is typically associated with paying higher costs than one would for other products widely available in the grocery store. While this is a barrier to ensuring that universities provide good food, White says that it’s becoming more accessible as more investment is being put into sustainable farming.
“Campuses across Canada together spend over $300 million on food purchases, so when those campuses pool their demand, that’s an enormous investment going into these producers that then enables these companies to scale up and off their prices at more affordable rates,” says White.


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