Living Lab: Burns Night

‘But mark the Rustic, haggis-fed, / The trembling earth resounds his tread.’‘An Address to a Haggis’ (1786).

Ben Garlick in a kilt reading a poem to a crowdWith words from the heart and enchanting melodies, Robert Burns’ renowned legacy as a writer and poet is commemorated in the form of Burns Night. Deemed as a pre-Romantic poet by many, Burns’ works expressed hopes for a fairer society, encouraged kindness and community, and shared his love of the natural world (poetry foundation).

This year, many of those involved in the Living Lab gathered together for a Burns Night potluck, holding an evening of music, poetry, food, and thoughtful conversation. Commenced with music from Becca Anderson and Oliver Bratley, and Ben Garlick’s powerful rendition of the famous ‘An Address to a Haggis’, the celebration represented a halfway point, the ‘passing over the baton’ between semesters. It was a fitting way to reflect upon some of the ecological collaborations that are taking place, whilst paying tribute to the inspirational writing that brings us together.

In keeping with tradition there was a toast, but rather than it being for the men and women in the room, it was instead for the activists. From the ‘warmly-dressed outdoor educators’ to ‘the awkward questioners and bold performers’, a toast was raised in appreciation of the hard work and dedication from staff and students alike.

leaflets made by art students

This was followed by a performance piece by three drama students, Jill, Ruby, and Tash. The performers drew inspiration from the art students’ exhibition, ‘Sustenance’, a bold, tactile, and original collection of artworks which hung on the canteen walls. In responding to the artwork, the drama students highlighted nuanced and personal stances on food, and the conflicting feelings around food which many of us face. Asking questions such as what should they eat, and whether they are judged for their eating patterns.

chef steve giving a talk

In spirit of Burns Night, everyone was treated to a cookery demonstration from chef Stephen Broadhurst and a shared meal of vegan ragout and rice (an accidental reference to ‘French ragout’). This sought to encourage healthy eating at a low cost and inspire an interest in cooking and in our food systems. The recipe for fresh tomato sauce, as demonstrated by chef Stephen, can be found on the living lab moodle page along with more recipes just like it.

Following the meal, student researchers and interns presented their findings from the last semester. Student researchers, Maia Nilsson and Hayden Costello spoke on how the qualitative research done in the Psych/Geog. collaboration highlighted the impact that the cost-of-living crisis was having on students. Noting themes such as a lack of education surrounding budgeting and cooking, as well as a confusion on where the student green areas are located.

Meg giving a talk on foodAfter this, there was a film screening of interviews conducted on the topic of food poverty and how this has impacted the lives of students. Student researcher, Meg Padgett, and Estates and Catering intern, Mhairi Fox, investigated how the stigma surrounding food poverty impacts mental health, how the Larder has become ‘a lifeline’, and the importance of food education.

Mhairi announced that the catering team will be working towards the Food For Life Bronze Award, which they are hoping to achieve by the summer. To achieve this, the catering team will ensure that 75% of food sold will be freshly prepared on site, there will be an emphasis on using seasonal produce, and that there will be a greater variety of meals for different diets. It was also announced that, in order to decrease food wastage and food poverty, York St John has joined the Too Good To Go Scheme.

Too Good To Go is an organization dedicated to reducing food wastage. With more than one third of food going to waste, and this wastage producing 10% of all greenhouse gases, this organization is now working at an international scale. At York St John, the catering team will be putting cold foods for sale on the app at a discounted price, and hopefully expanding into hot foods in the near future.

How Do I Order Food?

  • First start by downloading the Too Good To Go App
  • The catering team will post their menus at 3:30 every weekday for you to order
  • You will be able to pick-up your order from 4:45 – 5:15 from Holgate Canteen (bring your phone with you so staff can check your order)
  • Enjoy!

a group of people smilingOur evening ended with a workshop led by ISJ Project Manager, Vicki Pugh, on Future Thinking, and a talk from the Careers team on project funding options to support sustainable action. The workshop emphasised how through collaborative action, staff and students can ‘think bigger’ and broaden what we think is possible to achieve regarding sustainability at the university. It was an encouraging and hopeful note to end the evening on, and a catalyst of inspiration for the next semester.


Many thanks to all the staff and students involved in Burns Night!