Kunal Variawa stands on a crowded sidewalk with an armful of fruit and packaged food.
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Rye ranks high for local food on campus

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Justin Chandler

When it comes to student satisfaction with the availability of locally-grown food on campus, Ryerson ranks second in Ontario.

That’s according to a survey of Ontario university students conducted by Meal Exchange, a registered charity which organizes food-related projects across Canadian campuses. 

Ryerson ranked behind the University of Guelph, but seven spots higher than neighbouring U of T, which sat at number nine. 

Overall, Meal Exchange’s January 2018 Campus Food Report Card found 55 per cent of the 2,668 students surveyed across Ontario were unhappy with their ability to access “locally-grown, sustainable, healthy, and affordable foods.”

Campus food services reps rated their satisfaction with how they provide those sorts of food much higher—79 per cent on average. 

While nearly one quarter of respondents weren’t sure if food on their campus was grown locally or not, 82 per cent told Meal Exchange more locally-grown food would increase the availability of healthy food options on campus. 

Rena Mendelson, a professor in Ryerson’s School of Nutrition, said the distance food travels is “probably inconsequential in terms of real health value.” 

She said shipping food shorter distances is better for the environment because it creates less pollution.

Meal Exchange describes local food as “produced or harvested in Ontario, including forest or freshwater food, and food and beverages made in Ontario if they include ingredients produced or harvested in Ontario.”

“Ryerson probably has the densest offering of other choices around it, which makes it very hard for our food services to keep up with the kind of competition they have on Yonge Street, in the Eaton Centre, everywhere,” Mendelson said. 

 

“When the appealing foods are less expensive and tastier, health will be the last thing on our mind.”

 

She said Ryerson promotes local foods to encourage students to eat them. 

In 2014, the school renovated the Hub Café, which carries local options. The school hosts a regular farmers’ market on campus and has a rooftop garden which provides 10,000 pounds of fresh produce to university cafeterias, and the Gould Street farmers’ market. The rooftop garden started as a green roof and was converted in 2013.

But Mendelson warns customers at farmers’ markets not to assume food  is local.  

In the Meal Exchange survey, 76 per cent of students disagreed that food on campus was conducive to a healthy diet. Of that number, 64 per cent said healthy food options on campus were unaffordable. 

Mendelson said there are healthy food options at most universities but less healthy foods “compete for our dollars and may have more appeal.”

“Cheaper food tends to be less nutritious and we go by mostly taste and cost,” she said. 

“When the appealing foods are less expensive and tastier, health will be the last thing on our mind.”

Mendelson said the only real way to change that would be through some form of “benevolent dictatorship” where someone sets prices and makes healthy food cheaper. She said that won’t happen and even if it did, people still might choose unhealthy options based on taste. 

Meal Exchange suggests short- and long-term goals for Ontario’s universities, including creating committees to promote healthy, local and affordable food on campus, and promoting cheap, plant-based meals. 

As previously reported in The Eyeopener, Ryerson and Meal Exchange are partnering with Lakehead University to study food insecurity. 

With files from Jacob Dubé

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