By Sarah Tomlinson
The Ryerson Food Council’s “Food on Campus” survey has found that 93 per cent of student participants feel there needs to be more healthy and affordable food options on campus.
The online anonymous survey had 274 respondents and was sent out in October 2019.
Following the survey, Ryerson Eats started serving Zara’s Gourmet Kitchen options for under $6 per side dish, said Maria Jude, chair of Ryerson Food Council (RFC). She said the side dish has been a serving of cabbage or kale in the past.
However, Jude said Ryerson could be doing more to increase affordability in comparison to other universities. “Concordia right now has a $2 meal program. It’s amazing,” said Jude.
At Concordia, students can purchase a $2 vegan meal every Monday from the Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard. The meals vary weekly but include a source of protein, vegetable and starch according to their Facebook page.
According to the Good Food Centre’s fourth annual hunger report from 2017-18, 38.9 per cent of Ryerson students experienced moderate food insecurity. This led to students skipping meals or reducing their portions due to financial reasons.
“When tuition…and the cost of living increased, wages did not. Some students are still paying for their own food, their own school and their own rent,” said Jude.
According to Ani Merzaian, fourth-year communications representative for the Nutrition Course Union, said students do have some options to buy affordable produce on campus.*
“On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, you can purchase an assortment of seasonal vegetables which have been grown right on campus at the Urban Farm for $5 or less,” said Merzaian.
She also added that each month, the RU Students’ Good Food Market also provides students a chance to purchase fresh produce in bulk, on a pay-what-you-can basis.
Students want more “good food” on campus
Not only do students want cheaper food on campus, but they want it to be more sustainable too. 75 per cent of participants voted that more sustainable foods on campus were one of the most important food issues.
RFC has met with president Lachemi to discuss the council’s goal to have 20 per cent of the food offered by Ryerson to be “good food” by the year 2025. However, an official agreement with the president is yet to be made.
The Good Food Challenge is an initiative run by the Meal Exchange, a national charity working to increase food security and sustainability on post-secondary campuses across Canada. Its mandate is to increase the amount of healthy, sustainable and ethical food available on campus by pressuring food services to invest in more sustainable farming practices and plant-based options, according to their website.
Jude said the RFC is also looking to improve the sustainability of food on campus by running an audit every two years. The audit would enable the RFC to look at the invoices of campus food services to see how local and sustainable the food they’re purchasing is.
“Have students taste them and rate them to understand their mindsets and what works and what doesn’t”
However, Jude said food services and the business services manager have yet to agree to this audit.
Still, some students appreciate the moves toward sustainability Ryerson has made thus far.
Diana Ghidanac, events committee member for the Nutrition Course Union, said Ryerson Eats introduced a reusable container and has worked hard to diversify their options.
“I’ve worked with Ryerson Eats in the past as part of my placement and got to learn a lot about what it takes to work in food services, and sometimes change isn’t always easy to implement,” said Ghidancas.
More diverse food options
In the survey, 68 per cent of students also ranked having culturally appropriate food as one of the most important issues with food on campus.
While Jude acknowledged that campus eateries have begun to diversify the food on rotation by accommodating certain dietary restrictions, she said more needs to be done to understand what kind of food students want.
“It’s not really enough to assume that culturally appropriate food is just having very Canadian food on rotation every week and hope that this will make people on campus actually feel at home,” said Jude.
Nick Bellissimo, associate professor of Ryerson’s School of Nutrition, said a way to improve affordability and diversity of food on campus would be to have sampling sessions.
“You need to mix and match ideas, have students taste them and rate them to understand their mindsets and what works and what doesn’t,” said Bellissimo.
The survey report has yet to published. According to Jude, it will be released on Feb. 14, 2020 on the Ryerson Students for Food Security Facebook page.
*Clarification: While the Good Food Market is open to all students, it is run out of Continuing Education Students’ Association of Ryerson (CESAR). It is not a food service run by Ryerson.