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How University Students Are Leading the Charge to Repair our Broken Food Systems: Part 2

May 17, 2017 02:00 PM

Posted by Kirsten Lee

This blog series was a collaborative piece with my fellow colleague, Katelyn Godin, a PhD Candidate in the School of Public Health and Health Systems at the University of Waterloo. For part 1, of this blog series, click here.


Universities have a unique opportunity to engage students in creating change towards a more environmentally sustainable and healthy food system. Just as with Meatless Mondays in Part 1 of this blog series, PUSH (Presidents United to Solve Hunger) is an initiative that leverages the voices of student to drive change, specifically to tackle the challenge of food insecurity. We chatted with the PUSH group in late 2016 on student food insecurity. In this post, we discuss recent collaborative efforts by the PUSH initiative and follow-up with their thoughts on the movement. 



Presidents United to Solve Hunger (PUSH)

PUSH is a global movement that advocates for university leaders and administration to support the eradication of hunger and malnutrition. When universities sign the global PUSH mission, their institutions will join a coalition of university leaders around the world in making a commitment to advocacy and leadership related to accessibility of food for all, at both the campus and international levels. A University of Waterloo chapter was formed by a group of students in the fall of 2016 to advocate for this mission on their campus. 

Recognizing that food insecurity and hunger are complex issues that require partnerships at varying levels, PUSH has collaborated with the University of Waterloo Meal Exchange Student Chapter. Meal Exchange is an organization that is championing food system change across universities to improve food security and sustainability. This collaboration was an important step in empowering students to contribute to a just and sustainable food system, both on- and off-campus. Findings from Meal Exchange’s study suggest that food insecurity is a serious issue for Canadian post-secondary students as approximately 40% of surveyed students have experienced some degree of food insecurity in the past year. 

We asked the students of this collaborative group to chat about their involvement with PUSH/Meal Exchange. Here’s what they had to say:


Why are they involved with PUSH/Meal Exchange?

Students involved with PUSH/Meal Exchange were driven by the first-hand experience of witnessing their peers, friends, and themselves in situations where the availability of healthy options was limited or university culture didn’t support healthy choices. Many have seen others struggling with the transition between high school and university, where students eat because of stress or inconvenient timing or do not understand how to budget for food costs. There was an overwhelming agreement that they felt frustrated by the options available to them on campus and mentioned that health was a concern. 

Why should post-secondary institutions make food security a priority?

The students agreed that food security largely impacts the overall well-being of the campus population. The post-secondary environment was not only a place to learn about a specific discipline, but also for broader personal development in learning life skills, such as preparing healthy meals on a budget. Academic institutions have an opportunity to facilitate this growth, as well as supporting groups who may need financial assistance. 

What can students do? Where does the university step in? 

The students expressed that food insecurity amongst students is a systemic issue driven by high food prices and tuition costs. Various initiatives, such as budgeting workshops and improving food literacy are amongst their list of strategies to improve awareness and education on the topic. One student (2017) mentioned that “although workshops do not solve the root cause of student food insecurity, this is the most that can currently be done in [our] reach and we are interested in doing more with university administration”.

 Is there a place for collaboration with other student groups or university staff?

Students agree that collaboration is essential to improve the overall campus food system. While PUSH/MX focuses on empowering students to make change in improving food security on campus, overlapping goals and priorities with other groups creates a unique opportunity for resource sharing and creating a louder voice. The lack of collaboration between administration and students due to hesitancy to change is a major barrier. Food insecurity issues require larger system-level change to the surrounding environment and greater collaboration is beneficial to address this issue. 


Bringing It All Together (Meatless Mondays and PUSH)

Both Meatless Mondays and PUSH are driven by passionate students who are tackling food system challenges on the University of Waterloo campus with a bottom-up approach. The groups expressed the power of the student voice when advocating for food insecurity and the promotion of sustainable food options. However, there is a need for collaboration between university administration and key working groups to leverage greater change on campus. While the challenges of the food system are vast, universities and the surrounding community are an ideal leverage point to tackle food insecurity and sustainability, given the passion for change demonstrated by our leaders of tomorrow. 



UW Meal Exchange/PUSH: @MealExchangeUW

UW Meatless Monday: @Meatless_UW





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