The SUO’s latest campaign, $5 Smart Meals, provides subsidized plant-based meals to students in an attempt to combat food insecurity. The pilot program is providing meals on September 27th, October 11th, and October 25th, 2023 at the restaurants in the UNC. There will be 210 subsidized meals available during restaurant opening hours. The campaign aims to eventually provide these meals every Wednesday after gauging students’ initial response, with plans to implement the program twice a week during exam periods to promote mental well-being.
When running for the 2023/24 elections, one of Lakshay Karnwal’s main promises was to provide $4.99 meals. Now, as the Vice President External for the Students’ Union Okanagan, he is spearheading the campaign to fulfill them. He says:
“Food insecurity has always been a big complaint of students on campus. We are providing healthy and filling meals at a cheap price. Food security, Affordability, and Sustainability are the three pillars of this campaign. My vision for this program is huge, and I have been planning this for a year. Now, it depends on students’ response.”
Through this campaign, the SUO also aims to take the University a step closer to its Climate Action Plan 2030 goals. Lakshay explains, “The Plan describes three types of emissions: Scope 1, 2, and 3. Scope 1 and 2 are emissions directly under the University’s control, like building emissions. Scope 3 are extended emissions from things like food and waste, which are not directly under UBCO’s control. One of the goals of the Plan is to reduce the Scope 3 emissions from food systems by 50% before 2030. To achieve this goal, students’ support and willingness to try plant-based meals is imperative.” He is working with researchers to measure the reduction in greenhouse gases from this program.
A lot of students consider meat an essential part of their diet. When asked about the lack of choice in the menu to enforce vegan ideas, Lakshay defends the program by saying:
“We have ensured that the meals provide a balance of all nutrients and proteins. We want to promote plant forwardness, which is completely different from veganism. It aims to increase the amount of vegetables in the diet, and thinks of meat as a garnish instead of a main ingredient. A generally food insecure student wants a healthy and filling meal. If a student can afford to not buy an affordable filling healthy meal just because there is no meat in it, I think that will just open spots for students who actually need the meal.”
During the summer, the campaign team went through hours of planning, budgeting, and negotiations. They worked with Dr. Mary Stockdale — an Adjunct Professor from the University of Oxford — with extensive projects about food systems and sustainability, and Dr. Eric Li, who researches food systems and food securities. Academic support and their scholarly advice were essential in framing an action plan.
Jason Evans, the General Manager at the SUO, and Stephanie Patterson, the Food Nutrition Manager at Pantry, helped with the negotiations with restaurants. Finally, Becca Evans, the Communications Manager at the SUO, played an important role in creating a marketing strategy to spread awareness amongst students.
Feedback is important for pilot programs like these so that the Union can hear students’ voices. Surveys will be available on posters near places of sale. The VP External and his team will also be tabling on campus, so students can give direct feedback through in-person conversations. The program needs volunteers to speak about the campaign, who are climate-forward thinkers from diverse backgrounds. According to Lakshay, the Union is looking for passionate students to bring creative solutions that the SUO can work to implement. If you are interested in contributing, you can contact his office at email@example.com.