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Examining Campus Food Sustainability at York University

Archived Content

THEME: Campus Sustainability

TITLE: Examining Campus Food Sustainability at York University

AUTHOR(S): Annette Dubreuil, Lori Dagenais, Caitlin Gascon, Meagan Heath, Isabella Jaramillo,  Tony Morris, and Holly Ouellette

EDITOR(S): Anthony Barbisan, Dawn Bazely, and Cecilia Tagliavia

DATE: June 2009

TAGS: biodegradable packaging, recyclable containers, organic, vegetarian, York University Food Operations, eating habits, nation-wide eating habits

ABSTRACT: The Institute for Research and Innovation in Sustainability (IRIS) began looking at the range and types of food service operations at York University in the summer of 2008. A significant early finding was that food service operations on the Keele Campus are enormously decentralized, and that the Glendon Campus provides very few options for students. The mandate of IRIS is to engage in sustainability research, including that into campus-based sustainability issues. This past year, we examined the structure and practices of food services at York. In the spring of 2009, IRIS staff and volunteers surveys 1.239 members of the York community, and also interviewed key members of the university staff responsible for regulating campus food services. We also explored the range of available options that could improve the sustainability of these operations. This report describes the complexity of York’s current food services, and relates the York situation to the broader context of food and the environment. It also describes the survey results and provides specific recommendations for moving forward. Prior to being carried out, the survey was submitted for review and approval by York University’s Office of Research Ethics. Many of the York community members surveyed, expressed their dissatisfaction with campus food options as well as with campus waste management arising from the garbage produced by food services. An overwhelming number of survey participants expressed a strong desire for more healthy food, vegetarian and alternative dietary options, as well as very low interest in having access to major restaurant and fast food chains. Community members exhibited a high degree of willingness to participate in and to support more sustainable food practices, such as composting, bringing their own mugs to campus, or buying local and organic food options. Through additional research accompanying the survey, we learned that in their present state, the campus food service operations overseen directly by York face economic challenges with respect to their long-term sustainability. This is primarily due to the significant asymmetry that exists with respect to the relative distributions of customers and locations among the four primary food management bodies (York University Food Services, York University Development Corporation, which manages York Lanes, the Student Centre, and the Schulich School of Business). For example, many of the food service operations directly controlled by York University are in relatively quiet locations, compared with those in the Student Centre and York Lanes. The outcome of this decentralized management structure is that the university if not benefiting from its food service operations as greatly as might be assumed. As a result of these finds, we recommend that York University make food service operations a much higher priority on its sustainability agenda. A major step in this direction would be the formation of a policy aimed at governing campus food service operations in a more coordinated fashion that enables and supports the implementation of sustainable practices to a much greater degree than is presently possible.

LINKS: To view the entire publication, go to

COPYRIGHT: Copyright © 2009 Institute for Research and Innovation in Sustainability

BIBLIOGRAPHY: Dubreuil, A.; Dagenais, L.; Gascon, C.; Heath, M.; Jaramillo, I.; Morris, T.; Ouellette, H.; 2009. “Examining Campus Food Sustainability at York University.”

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