AJ Heritage, MRes student in Applied Linguistics and research assistant to the Ecological Justice Research Group, reports on the launch event of this year’s Living Lab – a People’s Assembly on the campus food system.
In the bustling world of university life, where freshers become friends over their first meals together and students gather for late-night snacks and drinks, food serves as the heart and soul of the campus experience. It’s in this spirit of culinary camaraderie that the York St John community convened for their first people’s assembly, with a goal to re-think how we feed the campus.
The assembly, hosted by the YSJ Living Lab, began with a series of lightning talks, each addressing a different challenge in campus dining. From plant-based eating to tackling the rising cost of living for students, these speakers illuminated the hurdles and opportunities in transforming how we eat.
Hayden Costello, coordinator of the Garden Café project, took to the floor first. Their message was clear: individuals should have the freedom to choose what they eat. Whilst sharing the benefits of plant-based eating, Hayden made clear that ‘free eating’ should be the priority in navigating food on campus.
Imogen Ravenscroft followed, shedding light on the growing financial anxieties of students. With student loans often falling short on covering rent and bills, Imogen emphasized the importance of keeping the canteen affordable, particularly when it came to cold drinks.
“We must make this place our home,” passionately declared Humphrey Chukwuedo, who advocated for a more culturally diverse menu at YSJ canteen. Humphrey argued that the current menu does not reflect the high international population at YSJ and proposed weekly cultural menu takeovers.
Extinction Rebellion activist, Adam Myers, discussed the critical role of food choices in tackling climate change. Adam called for collective action and asked the assembly to consider the true cost of their food. Adam proposed raising the price of meat and prioritising local, seasonal, and sustainably sourced products.
Stephen Broadhurst, head chef at YSJ, ended the series of lightning talks with a focus on balancing priorities with practical concerns. Stephen shared that whilst food costs have risen, the canteen meals are currently at the same price as they were four years ago. Stephen also shed light on to the behind-the-scenes difficulties in sourcing affordable plant-based options, with many companies reducing their vegan lines.
Following these talks, the assembly transitioned into break-out group discussions, where participants brainstormed innovative solutions to reshape the future of campus dining.
- Implement cultural food takeovers at the university, providing immersive experiences that include music, decor, and surroundings. Local volunteers can assist in creating these culturally immersive dining experiences.
- Organize monthly cultural takeovers based on feedback from focus groups. If meals receive positive feedback, make them permanent additions to the menu.
- Offer vegan menu items at a reduced price compared to meat-based options, encouraging more sustainable dietary choices.
Cost of Living:
- Implement a sliding scale for pricing, with students paying the least, and senior staff paying the highest prices for food.
- Consider a semester or yearly blanket fee for students, granting them access to all food options on campus, alleviating the financial burden and ensuring consistent access to affordable meals.
The people’s assembly on food brought together diverse voices and perspectives, united by a common desire to create more inclusive, sustainable, and affordable food options on campus. The positive and supportive atmosphere in which these discussions unfolded was a testament to the collaborative spirit of the YSJ community. Led by student facilitators who skilfully guided the sessions and co-hosted by the Students Union, the assembly provided an empowering platform for students and staff to actively participate in shaping the future of campus dining. With these visionary proposals in hand, the university has the opportunity to pioneer a transformative shift and set a new standard for campus dining.
If joining the food revolution sounds up your street, please get in touch with email@example.com or @YSJEcolJustice.