Over the last few years, universities have been trying to make their cafeteria food better. But according to a new survey by Meal Exchange, Ontario schools are not there yet.
“We saw, across the board, that students have some concerns around the food they’re seeing on campus,” says Meal Exchange’s program coordinator Merryn Maynard. Meal Exchange, a Toronto-based charity supporting student-led food activism, spoke to 2,668 Ontario university students for its first campus food report card. They gave campus food a mark of just 55 percent overall for healthiness, affordability, and accessibility to local and sustainable foods.
The survey included feedback from 15 food service representatives and management from 35 campus food outlets. They gave themselves an overall score of 79 percent on similar criteria – a wide gap.
Regarding sustainability, food service managers reported various projects to educate staff and procure sustainable food, yet 31 percent of students were unsure about their satisfaction with sustainability efforts on campus. That suggests communication is also an issue, says Ms. Maynard.
The survey was a partnership with the Green Belt Foundation and focused on the availability of local food. The University of Guelph led in student satisfaction in this category.
“We are really passionate about food,” says Ed Townsley, executive director of hospitality services at U of G. The school, which manages food services in-house rather than through an outside caterer, serves at least 10 percent local foods, has access to the university’s agricultural research centres and apiary, plus has ample kitchen space to freeze or can vegetables for off-season use.
“All of this takes time,” says Mr. Townsley. For instance, it took hospitality services six years to get a greenhouse on campus. And the school has been trying for four years to compost food waste and has so far only succeeded to introduce the program in one cafeteria.
He wonders if some schools who fared poorly on the survey might be in the middle of an old catering contract – newer ones tend to include goals for things like local and sustainable food, and are drafted with student input.
Ms. Maynard says the survey revealed that students need to liaise more with administration, and both administration and caterers need to communicate better with students about efforts to improve campus food. “It really showed us there’s a lot of room to grow,” she says.