At the launch of the GROW campaign, Oxfam Canada’s campus clubs were eager to spread the conversation about food to their universities. They wanted to know what students thought about issues of food. In the land of meal plans and campus cafeterias, they wanted to know what factors influence the way students eat. They wanted to know whether Canadian students believe that the way we produce, purchase and eat food can be an act of global citizenship. If the global food system is broken, how does this play out at our university campuses across Canada?
The World Food Day Survey was borne out of these questions and since September has collected over 1,200 responses from students across Canada.
The survey revealed a great deal:
- Students eat on campus. Most students will eat at least once a week on campus, using the food vendors provided by the university. Close to 40% of respondents eat a few times a week on campus.
- Some campuses provide healthy options. When asked whether students believe that their campus food services permit them to eat a healthy diet, the results were mixed. A quarter of the respondents were ‘neutral’ regarding this opinion. One-third of the respondents thought that their campuses provided ‘very little’ means toward a healthy diet. Whereas one-fifth thought they had ‘quite a bit’ in terms of access to healthy food.
- Price matters. The survey also explored what factors students consider when purchasing food. By far, ‘price’ was the biggest influence on students (33% of answers), with ‘taste’ and ‘health’ in second and third place (23% and 21%, respectively.) Listing ‘price’ as a major factor in food purchases is no surprise, especially when I consider how many packs of noodle bowls and frozen pizzas I would stockpile each week on my student budget. At the time, fresh veggies seemed a luxury, let alone any organic food! When I look at the FAO’s projections of increasing costs of food this year, I can only imagine the impact on the world’s poor, let alone a typical Canadian university student.
- Food miles and production history aren’t always a big issue for students. This leads into the question of how aware students are about the politics of food and the implications our food choices have on the global system. When asked how often students consider where their food was produced, 25% of respondents said they consider this ‘quite a bit’. 28% of respondents said they have ‘very little’ consideration for this. When asked how often students consider the global implications of their food choices, 37% said they consider them ‘occasionally’, 20% consider them ‘frequently’ and 23% consider them ‘rarely’.
So clearly, we have a long way to go. The GROW campaign will continue to challenge our assumptions about food and enlighten Canadians on how our food choices can impact the world. Canadian universities also have a long way to go. As the sites of critical thinking and academic inquiry, universities should source food ethically, and in a way that reflects the interests of its populations. 92% of survey respondents say they do want to see more locally-sourced food on campus. Opening spaces for local food vendors at universities could go a long way to begin the shift needed to mend our broken food system.
Taryn Diamond is Oxfam Canada’s youth and campus outreach officer.