Photo Credit: Amy Hadley, CBC
By Sanjana Sharma
My name is Sanjana and I’m a second-year Computer Science student at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay. I found my passion for food when I started working on Meal Exchange’s Students Feeding Change project on my campus earlier this year, and understood that not having access to “Good Food” is not normal, as it is so often stigmatized as being part of the struggles of student life.
Through engaging in conversations with peers and experiencing different forms of food insecurity myself, I have understood that food insecurity is a structural issue and that there needs to be more awareness and work done around this issue at Lakehead University and in the broader Thunder Bay community.
What is Good Food?
Achieving “Good Food” on campus is the goal of Meal Exchange’s Good Food Challenge (GFC). The GFC is composed of four core pillars that outline the standards for food that is ‘good’ – community-based, ecologically-sound, socially-just, and humane. The aim of the GFC is to provide a rigorous national standard for Good Food, capture best practices in campus food procurement, and establish a national benchmark for campuses to uphold. In doing so, it provides an opportunity for students to critically think about food systems and modes of production and consumption.
I started off by coordinating Phase 2 of the Grocery Bus Pilot Project in February 2019, which was run by Meal Exchange in collaboration with Lakehead University International and Lakehead University Student Union (LUSU). The Pilot focused on providing a free bi-monthly bus service for students that made multiple trips from the main campus to grocery stores like Walmart and Real Canadian Superstore. This initiative made transport accessible for students who were not able to travel to grocery stores to purchase groceries to be able to eat well. By collaborating with Westfort Foods and the Country Market, Meal Exchange was also able to support local farmers and good food. The Pilot also incorporated “Eating Well on a Budget” workshops run by Lakehead’s staff and a “Walk and Talk with a Dietitian” tour hosted by Thunder Bay District Health Unit (TBDHU), which helped students learn more about how to eat healthier. While the Grocery Bus Pilot was an outstanding initiative to tackle food insecurity, I noted that it was not a service that most students were benefiting from.
In the summer of 2019, I started Lakehead University Meal Exchange Chapter (LUMXC) with the help of my friend, Mario Koeppel, and a group of other like-minded, enthusiastic friends who are passionate about uniting students that share an interest in ending food insecurity on the Lakehead University campus. After sharing my insight from the Grocery Bus Pilot, and participating in rigorous brainstorming and group discussions, I, along with the LUMXC, decided to kick into the year by bringing groceries to campus through the Thunder Bay Good Food Box program. LUMXC makes this happen by pre-ordering Good Food Boxes and then setting a table on campus to sell those boxes at a subsidized rate to students. Although the Good Food Box is still in its testing phase, LUMXC has gained a lot of support on this project because of the ease of access that it offers to students who are not able to travel to grocery stores and/or do not have a budget to purchase fresh produce. LUMXC is also able to support local produce through this program as the Good Food Box tries to include as much local produce as possible.
As the co-leader of LUMXC, I have developed relationships with various departments at Lakehead like Enrolment Services, LUSU, Food and Conference Services, Lakehead International, and Lakehead Residence; clubs like Sustainability Initiative Thunder Bay and African Caribbean Student Association (AFCASA); committees like Food Security Committee and Indigenous Food Sovereignty Committee (IFSC); and other organizations like Thunder Bay and Area Food Strategy (TBAFS) and TBDHU. Just like LUMXC, these groups are also passionate about understanding student demands to tackle food insecurity and have offered support in the initiatives that LUMXC plans to take on this year. I believe that these relationships will only be strengthened over time and will help bring a radical change in Lakehead’s campus food system.
Aside from sitting on committees and holding regular meetings at LUMXC to discuss progress and opportunities for improvement, I also make sure to talk to students about issues with access to Good Food that they may be facing currently. At present, LUMXC strives to keep talking about Good Food and how the current food system is inadequate for the students of Lakehead University, and hopes to establish a grocery store on campus in the future.
Sanjana Sharma is an international student at Lakehead University, who is pursuing an Honours of Bachelors of Science in Computer Science while also building stronger relationships between the student and broader Thunder Bay community through sharing stories, writing, and co-leading Lakehead University Meal Exchange Chapter.