Where do we go from here? A look at food at Humber College

Farm to Campus, Farm to School Farm to School Canada

Photo: Robin picking tea in Nuwara Eliya, Sri Lanka, wearing a hat with an attached mesh bag that holds the plucked tea. 

By Robin Sagi, Good Food Challenge Coordinator at Humber 

Over $300 million is spent by educational institutions on food annually in Canada. Meal Exchange, a Canadian charity, is working to help students and campuses to leverage their purchasing power and change the food system.

The Good Food Challenge, run by Meal Exchange, asks campuses to commit to purchasing 20% Good Food by 2025. The Good Food standards were developed with over 200 students and advisors, creating a national standard for sustainable and just food on Canadian campuses. The program uses an in-depth supply chain audit to measure food on campus that is socially-just, humane, ecologically-sound and community-based, establishing a baseline from which to evaluate and improve campus food procurement.

On campus, students are experiencing independence for the first time, developing their own food habits, and learning about the societal impact of their purchasing choices. However, students are limited to food options available on campus and have little autonomy in their daily food choices. Increasingly, students want to know where their food is coming from and how it is produced. As such, a requirement of the Good Food Challenge is being able to trace food items back to their place of origin (for example, a farm or fishery). 

This summer, Humber College completed the Good Food Calculator audit in their North Campus residence, which is operated by Chartwells and serves over a thousand students daily who are required to purchase meal plans. 

Humber College is a leader in sustainability, and is aware that food is an important component of campus sustainability. In their 2014-2018 Strategic Plan, Humber set a goal of procuring 30% Good Food by 2014, increasing by 2% annually. Good Food Challenge audit results indicate that during 2018-2019, an average of 1.2% of food on Humber campus was Good Food. However, Humber is actually purchasing more Good Food than this but there were a number of institutional and logistical barriers to tracing product supply chains, which made these items ineligble for the audit. For example, Humber is a Fair Trade designated school and purchases a large amount of fair trade coffee, tea, and chocolate. However, lack of product tracking on campus made it impossible to evaluate how many of these items were offered in the North Campus residence.

Even if chefs or food service managers care about improving food on campus, there are a number of barriers that limit what they can do. Large food distributors have made institutional procurement streamlined and cheaper, but current offerings of Good Food are limited. Purchasing locally also requires sourcing from more farms and distribution infrastructure that is lacking in order to serve large institutions. 

Campuses respond when students demand change. In 2018, Humber became the first Fair Trade Designated college in Ontario after a student movement put pressure on the institution. Currently, 66% of students surveyed by the Office of Sustainability said they would pay more for food that is sustainable and local. However, for food services to take this demand seriously, students need to voice their concerns on campus. 

These audit results, while lower than anticipated, set a baseline from which we can measure and encourage improvements in procurement practices. The student body can get involved in increasing Good Food on campus in a number of ways. Capstone projects could help improve supply chain management and tracking softwares. Student-led educational activities and conversations would also support Good Food initiatives on campus.

If you would like to learn more about student food security, the Good Food Challenge, and how to get involved, reach out to Meal Exchange!

Robin just completed the Good Food Challenge at Humber College. She helped lead the movement to get Humber Fair Trade designated starting in 2014 and finally succeeded in 2018. The success of Humber allowed her to receive the Ontario Council of International Cooperations Global Youth Changemaker award. She has worked with Fair Trade Toronto and Fair Trade Canada in the meantime. She has experience working in monitoring and evaluating on economic projects in Sri Lanka and Indonesia, one which specifically focused on the tea sector. Purchasing power personally gives Robin a lot of confidence. Knowing what she is eating and the impact it has is something she holds deeply. She is excited to get back to Humber and push them a little harder in being transparent and accountable, while encouraging students to be in control of their purchasing power. 

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