Coinciding Food Weeks Make Sustainable Options Accessible

Bite ME! Week and Fair Trade Campus Week’s Workshops Give Students a Hand in Changing How We Eat

A DIY lip balm workshop on Wednesday, Sept. 28 was one of the events held for Fair Trade Campus Week. Photos Joshua De Costa

If you think about it, Concordia University is a city within a city.

With more than 46,000 students, Concordia has almost the same number of students as Shawinigan, Quebec, has residents. Every year, the university adds quantifiable benefits to Quebec’s economy worth approximately $1.3 billion—the same amount that the province’s pork industry generates in revenue each year.

Like a city, Concordia has the power to change Quebec by virtue of its size and consumption. Different groups at the university now face the question: how can we reach the students?

Enter Bite ME! 2016 Food Week and Fair Trade Campus Week.

Organized by two different Concordia organizations, both week-long events were planned to run on the same week from Sept. 26 to 30—purely out of coincidence—yet both have the same aim: to make students smarter with their food.

Taking the bite out of finding good food

In the run-up to Bite ME! Week, Sebastián Di Poi, Concordia Food Coalition’s Internal Coordinator, had his plate full of planning as he organized workshops to show students how they could better fill their plates.

Sebastián Di Poi is Concordia Food Coalition’s internal coordinator.

Di Poi first became involved with the CFC after he moved out on his own in 2009 and learned firsthand how difficult it was for students to find good food, affordably.

“A lot of the times, the crap we eat is what’s most economically accessible,” said the 27-year-old Concordia alumnus. “And that’s the problem.”

Di Poi pointed to a sign pinned to the wall across from him that read “Concordia’s Multi-faith & Spirituality Centre: Mo’Hubbs vegan dinner for $2.”

“Concordia’s full of things like that,” he said. “That’s how you make people food secure—you make healthy, cheap, food accessible to them.”

Food secure people know where their next meal is coming from, explained Di Poi, and Bite ME! Week could help students achieve that by teaching them, for example, how to grow their own produce.

On Monday evening, Di Poi had organized a hydroponics workshop in Concordia’s Greenhouse to show students that they could grow fruit or vegetables in their apartments without using a lot of space or soil.

As the workshop began, Dominique Smith, a volunteer hydroponic coordinator, brought out a plastic tray overflowing with luscious mustard greens he had prepared earlier. Smith planted the mustard seeds three weeks ago among lava rocks—an alternative to soil—and watered it with a simple nutrient and water solution.

After that, the mustard greens flourished themselves.

“I put stuff in there and it grows. It’s very rugged,” said Smith, as attendees plucked and ate the mustard greens from his tray. “Urban agriculture is the future—it brings the food to the people.”

Canada could one day reduce the massive carbon footprint it creates importing bananas from Costa Rica by growing them locally instead with hydroponics, according to Smith. But today, hydroponics could help students become more food secure, growing their greens away from the requirements of soil.

“Urban agriculture is the future—it brings the food to the people.” – Dominique Smith, volunteer hydroponic coordinator

Reworking food systems with Fair Trade Week

A dozen people sat in a circle under Concordia Greenhouse’s fluorescent lights Wednesday night, passing around and smelling jars of oils and blocks of butter. They had come to the workshop, organised as part of Fair Trade Campus Week, ready to make their own lip-balm.

The recipe was simple.

Melt shea butter, cocoa butter and coconut oil together; add an oil of your choice—tonight, olive oil; and then finish with your favourite flavour: chocolate, mint or orange.

The stories behind the ingredients, however, were more complex.

Shea butter, called “women’s gold” for centuries because of its golden colour and the employment opportunities harvesting it traditionally provides for women, was shipped to Montreal by a business employing more than 5,000 women in Burkina Faso, West Africa. The Zaytoun fair trade olive oil was made from fruit harvested off olive trees in Palestine, owned by Palestinian farmers.

And the cocoa butter smelled delicious.

But what each ingredient shared in common was that they found their way to the workshop that night through fair trade, which meant that at every step of production, workers earned decent wages in safe working conditions.

Today, shoppers are more aware than ever of how their choices can affect workers miles away who might be mothers or fathers with their own children and families.

“I don’t think it’s a trend. I think what we’re seeing is a real movement towards changing our food system,” said Isabelle Mialhot-Leduc, Concordia’s Sustainable Food System Coordinator and organizer of the Fair Trade Week.

She explained the move toward fair trade today is being driven largely by young people who are entering farming and seeing how their food is produced.

Lucious mustard greens ripe for your picking.

Mailhot-Leduc, who earned her Master’s in sociology from UQAM while studying urban agriculture, lived on an organic farm for almost a year before starting at Concordia. There she saw how traditional industrial food systems could change to benefit all the consumers and producers up and down the supply chain.

“Since a majority of the products we eat come from far away, it’s really easy to completely disconnect,” she said. The reality is that workers on rural farms are affected by urban food choices—something that Concordia has recently recognized.

On Aug. 30, Concordia became Canada’s 17th Fair Trade Campus, and the fourth in Quebec. That means all non-franchises, student-run cafes and residence halls on campus have pledged to use only fair trade coffee, sell at least three fair trade teas and at least one fair trade chocolate wherever they’re served.

Fair Trade Week took place from Sept. 26 to 30 by more than 40 campuses across Canada, but still, more can be done. Following the week, Mailhot-Leduc said she would keep pushing to make fair trade products more available and visible on campus. But for that to happen, students need to want it.

“Fair trade is something that grows with demand,” she said. “It can’t grow without it.”