Concordia Student-Run Food Groups Research Project

previous arrow
next arrow

What is your experience with the food system at Concordia University?

Concordia University hosts to over fifty thousand people – including students, faculty, staff, and visitors. These people consume food in and around Concordia. About one thousand students living in residence must purchase a mandatory meal plan from Aramark. Other students, faculty, and staff purchase food from campus groups, like the Hive; get free food from the People’s Potato, Loyola Free Lunch Program and/or Mother Hubbard’s; go to Aramark and its affiliated brands on campus; purchase produce from the Concordia Farmers Market, Le Frigo Vert and/or The Concordia Greenhouse; some people bring food from home; and others purchase food off campus. What does the Concordia community think about food services on campus?

This is a report about a public discussion regarding the food services at Concordia. Participants in the discussion were asked about their experiences consuming food in and around Concordia. They were also asked to imagine what an ideal food system would look like on campus, and discussed strategies to move from the present situation to their vision of an ideal food system. The main findings were that participants would like Concordia to provide more resources to prepare, grow and eat food on campus. Furthermore, participants expressed a desire for Concordia to offer more courses and programs on food related topics. Finally, participants indicated that they want Concordia to refrain from contracting large multinational corporation to run food services on campus but instead work in partnership with local, student-run, social economy enterprises and alternative/non-capitalist groups that already exist on campus.

Imagine Together: Sustainable Food Services

The public discussion was held at the Transitions Conference in 2018. The organizing committee consisted of representatives from Sustainable Concordia, the Concordia Food Coalition and The Concordia Student-Run Food Groups Research Project – Marlo Ritchie Turner, Erik Chevrier, and Naj Sumari. The discussion was titled, Imagine Together: Sustainable Food Services.

The goals set out by the organizing team were to:

(1) inform the participants about the food system at Concordia University.

(2) encourage participants to reflect on their relationship with food systems.

(3) inspire participants to get involved in organizing or participating with social economy food groups on and off campus.

(4) provide a comfortable space where participants can brainstorm about how to create a more sustainable food system.

(5) provide a report to the community outlining the ideas discussed at this event.

To achieve these goals, the organizing team devised a series of discussion questions, some with corresponding follow up questions.

Question 1 – What is your experience with the food system at Concordia?

  • Do you eat food on campus? If so, where do you typically buy your food?
  • Do you buy groceries on campus from the Farmers Markets, Concordia Greenhouse and/or Le FrigoVert?
  • Do you get free food on campus from the People’s Potato, Mother Hubbard’s and/or Hive Free Lunch Program?
  • Are you in residence and are part of the Aramark meal plan? What is your experience with Aramark’s services?
  • What food services are missing that you would like to see on campus?
  • Are your needs being met? If not, what needs to be changed to meet individual and collective needs on campus?

Question 2 – What would your ideal food system on campus look like?

Question 3 – How can we work together to address the changes needed to create an ideal food system?

  • What resources are required?
  • What changes are required from what exists currently?
  • What strategies should be used to create an ideal food system?

These questions were designed to assess three main areas. The first question addressed people’s experience with food services at Concordia. We wanted to know where people eat in and around Concordia. We were also curious about people’s level of satisfaction about the food choices on campus, i.e. are resident students content with the meal plan, are students meeting their dietary needs while on campus? The first question focused on the present state of the food system at Concordia.

The second question asked participants to imagine what an ideal food system would look like at Concordia University – i.e. to envision what they want out of a food system on campus. This question was asked in an open-ended fashion so that participants were not constrained to think of only what is possible in the current context – the process was meant to address any idea, even those considered implausible. The second question focused on imagining an ideal, future state of food services at Concordia.

The third question tied the first two questions together by encouraging participants to imagine transitioning from the present state of food services to the imagined ideal state. Identifying the discrepancy between the present state and ideal state can create a source of motivation and help move closer towards the ideal state[1]. Our intention was to inspire participants to become actively involved in co-creating the food system they want on campus at Concordia.

Logistics and Participants

The event was held on February 3rd, at 4:30PM and lasted about an hour and a half. This was the last event of the second day of the Transition Conference.

About 40 people participated in the discussion[2]. Participants consisted of attendees of the Transitions Conference. Participants included Concordia students, professors, and members of the administration, as well as people from the community at large.

Methodology and Procedure

The session was hosted via the World Café Method. The World Café method consists of seven integrated design principles: set the context, create hospitable space, explore questions that matter, encourage everyone’s contribution, connect diverse perspectives, listen together for patterns and insights, share collective discoveries.

The event began with Erik Chevrier, who gave a presentation about the student-run food groups at Concordia University. He displayed the Concordia Student-Run Food Groups Map and briefly introduced the food groups at Concordia. His presentation focused on five elements of the food system at Concordia: production, processing, distribution, waste management and support groups. He stressed the importance of developing a diverse system of social economy food organizations that address the needs of the Concordia community and the community at large. He also advocated for the development of a diverse economy as illustrated by Gibson-Graham[3] – one that encourages alternative and non-capitalist practices. For example, the People’s Potato, Mother Hubbard’s and the Hive Free Lunch Program are organizations that are rooted in alternative and non-capitalist practices and play important roles in establishing food security on campus. These organizations provide food to the Concordia community for ‘free’ – without people having to pay upon receipt of the food. Instead students fund these organizations through fee levies. In one example, the People’s Potato receives 40 cents per credit from undergraduates and 2 dollars per semester from graduate students to feed between 400 and 500 students daily – less than 10 dollars per student per year. A small contribution from every student helps reduce food insecurity on campus. His presentation lasted about 10 minutes. His presentation is available here.

Marlo Turner Richie followed by introducing the World Café method and explained how the discussion would be structured. She read and explained the three questions (motioned above) to the participants. She informed participants that there were five tables equipped with large sheets of paper and markers; at the top of the sheets of paper was one of the three questions. She asked participants to spend fifteen minutes discussing each question. Marlo signaled participants to change tables and answer a new question after each fifteen-minute interval.

Each table had a facilitator who helped guide the discussion and encourage participants to write down and/or draw the ideas generated around the table. The facilitators were recruited and trained by Naj Sumari prior to the event.

Once participants answered all three questions, Marlo led a large discussion with all the participants, together, asking them to report back about salient points generated from the break out groups. The discussion lasted about fifteen minutes. Participants were then asked to stick their posters to a wall at the back of the room. Once the posters were stuck to the wall, participants were encouraged to place brightly coloured stickers on the posters beside comments that they felt were important.  Participants and organizers ended with informal conversations about food related topics as they placed stickers on the posters.


The notes taken by participants at the event are available at the bottom of this page. Transcriptions of the notes are provided via drop-down menus under the summaries for each question.

Question 1 – What is your experience with the food system at Concordia?

Three main themes were generated by this discussion. First, people named a wide variety of places that they consumed in and around campus. Secondly, participants expressed that they want more cooking spaces on campus and cooking courses and/or culinary programs. Third, participants indicated that they appreciate the student-run initiatives on campus. Participants places lots of stickers on groups like the People’s Potato, The Hive, and Le Frigo Vert.

On a cautionary note, some of the people who participated in the event were not from Concordia. Some have never stepped foot on campus until the Transitions Conference. Although we did not count how many people were from Concordia or not, through informal discussions with the participants, we safely say that most of the participants were from the Concordia community.


Question 2 – What would your ideal food system on campus look like?

Participants did not come up with any kind of ‘grand design’ for an ideal system, but instead they provided a critique of what is missing on campus; an account of practices/organizations that currently exist on campus and that are doing well; values that should comprise a better food system; and suggestions for improvement.

Participants expressed a great deal of concern over the lack of resources available on campus – especially communal eating spaces. Participants indicated that they want to see more food production spaces, cooking facilities, prepping areas, communal eating spaces, and kitchens on campus. Furthermore, participants were generally dissatisfied with the food services offered by Aramark but expressed appreciation for the student run organizations. However, participants critiqued both the student-run organizations and Aramark for not having adequate food services on evenings and weekends.

Participants identified values that should comprise an ideal food system, including: diverse, ethnic, affordable, healthy, whole foods, inclusive, transparent, accounting for dietary restrictions, nutritious, and local, while providing employment and educational opportunities to students on campus.

Items that were awarded overwhelmingly more stickers included: less packaging in grocery stores, design more spaces to be able to eat with others, and access to recipes. Other stickers were placed on: getting people invested in their communities, why Café X closed, no access to food in the evenings and on weekends, no resources, like microwaves, student garden, eating where we can communicate about food justice, and bartering systems.


Question 3 – How can we work together to address the changes needed to create an ideal food system?

The most salient topic in the discussion was the desire for Concordia to expand the pedagogical opportunities related to food and sustainability. Examples include: the creation of a food studies program, creating more skill-share networks, including sustainability in all programs, devising more experiential learning courses, and creating a food security program.

Another common discussion point involved replacing, reforming, and/or making Aramark more transparent. Participants expressed the need for the Concordia administration to collaborate with local, small food organizations on campus instead of large multinational corporations. Participants also stressed the importance of creating/promoting student run organizations and engaging with community partners.

Participants also identified values that should guide the transformation to an ideal food system. These values include: decolonizing, non-hierarchal, inclusive, collaborative, multi-stakeholder, shared goals, giving people a voice, sensibility, communication and deconstructing traditional gender roles.

Stickers were placed on food studies program, local currency, course curriculum experiential, educate people on campus about food issues, education concerning sustainability – talk about waste issues, creating space for unheard voices, transversal learning for all programs, influence the bid sustainable criteria, non-hierarchal, links to other community organizations, more transparency – information about the corporate supplier Aramark, revolution, CFC incubator for food projects, educate students on how food affects health, awareness and transparency, deconstructing gender roles involving kitchen & cooking, educate youth, and mandatory education programs related to your field of study.


The goal of the activity was to host a World Café style discussion to understand more about people’s experience with food services in and around campus at Concordia, to have people imagine an ideal food system and strategize about how to transition towards that ideal system.

What resulted was a lively series of discussions that generated interesting ideas, but no clear action plan. To properly address the three questions mentioned above, it would take a series of meetings and should include all interested food groups on campus. To have a proper envisioning session, food organizations on campus should be consulted about what they would like to see coming out of such a meeting. Some suggestions for topics to discuss include: needs and asset mapping discussions between the student-run food organizations; brainstorming sessions about how to create a food sovereign, just and secure campus; create opportunities for experiential learning by fostering partnerships between food organizations on campus, students and faculty; to name only a few.

To address the current state of food services, surveys should be conducted with the results made available to the community at large. These surveys should go beyond asking students what type of food they want (i.e. pizza, burgers, etc.) to also address the needs of the Concordia community by asking more critical questions, like: what type of experience people want in these locations, what values the food organization should abide by, what kind of procurement policies should be adopted, what are their expectations regarding food quality, should food providers serve GM produce, etc. Furthermore, an inquiry into the experiences of residence students with the mandatory meal plan should also be conducted.

Despite these limitations, we were able to identify three interesting opportunities.

1 – Concordia could provide more pedagogical opportunities for students who want to study food related topics. This could be done by creating courses specific to food issues; introducing food topics in courses about social economy, ecological sustainability and climate change, among others; and by creating undergraduate and/or graduate programs where students can get a degree/certificate in food studies.

2 – Concordia could refrain from contracting large multinational food service corporations like Aramark, Chartwells and/or Sodexho, but instead work in partnership with local, student-run, social economy enterprises and alternative/non-capitalist groups that are connected to the community surrounding Concordia.

3 – Concordia University could provide better resources on campus to prepare food, eat together, grow food, and cook food. Concordia could provide students more kitchen space, communal eating areas and facilities for them to grow food if they desire.

[1] Reeve, J. (2015) Understanding Motivation and Emotion, Wiley.

[2] Participants gave verbal consent to make the information generated via the discussion available to the public.

[3] Please see: Gibson_Graham, J, K., Cameron, J., Healy. (2013) Take Back the Economy: An Ethical Guide for Transforming Our Communities, University of Minnesota Press

Report written by: Erik Chevrier
Photos taken by: Vanessa Macri

Raw Data

previous arrow
next arrow