Hundreds of UBC students gathered Friday afternoon at a walkout led by Sprouts Cafe to protest rising food insecurity, reduced funding and a perceived lack of support from the university.
Sprouts, a student-run organization providing healthy and sustainable food to the UBC community, led protestors from outside the Nest to Koerner Library, where community members gave speeches before delivering an open letter demanding action on food insecurity to the office of UBC Interim President Deborah Buszard.
Attendees were energized, spontaneously breaking into cheers and chants during the demonstration. Many carried signs that ranged from humorous: “Starving is cringe” and “I’m hangry,” to heartbreaking: “I’m sick of having sleep for dinner.”
Carla Conradie, a fourth-year environmental engineering student and Sprouts Products Manager, carried a sign that listed out the demands Sprouts detailed in its open letter to UBC administration. These demands include both permanent food security funding as well as long-term structural goals such as living wages and affordable housing for the UBC community.
“Well, for UBC, we expect there's gonna be a pretty long process of just back and forth because the university … has historically been really bad with food security,” Conradie said.
“We're just trying to show them that this is an issue that they cannot ignore, and if they do, there will be consequences because this is peoples’ lives on the line.”
In front of Koerner Library, Sprouts Co-Presidents Delanie Austin and Gizel Gedik thanked students for attending the walkout.
“This campaign has come out of a labour of love,” Gedik said. “Food is community, and we can see that here today.”
The co-presidents read aloud the open letter, which had garnered 3,461 signatures as of Friday night. The first demand is that permanent food security funding is established at $1.91 million, the same level as the one-time funding of the 2021/22 fiscal year.
In an interview earlier this week, Austin explained the urgent need for permanent funding.
“Next year when I'm not here, and my co-president is not here, we don't really want to leave a legacy of everyone having to keep fighting and fighting for this money,” Austin said.
Two weeks ago, UBC announced it was pledging $500,000 to food security initiatives as a one-time grant. Of this, Sprouts will receive $30,000.
Austin noted that this money must be spent this year, leaving no assurances for what type or amount of funding UBC will provide in the future.
“And I think that also creates … tension within food security spaces. Because we would rather be able to build bridges with people all over campus … than have to, like, argue for who should have funding.”
In a written statement to The Ubyssey, UBC’s Associate Vice President of Student Housing and Community Services, Andrew Parr, said with the additional $500,000 of funding, the university has also dedicated $2.4 million in total towards food security between Vancouver and Okanagan campuses this fiscal year.
His statement did not mention that $282,000 of the total was put forward by the AMS and Students Union Okanagan, and that a further $280,000 from UBCO Student Financial Aid is not expected to go to students seeking food aid.
He added that UBC’s funding to combat food insecurity “was not reduced during this fiscal year,” but rather that last-year’s funding was a one-time allocation due to the circumstances of the pandemic.
Students speak out
During the walkout, several student speakers took to the microphone to rally the crowd.
“I encourage you, I encourage everyone, talk to your friends, get them started on this conversation,” said Vivica, a first-year student who spoke to the crowd. “Make sure they understand that even if you can access food, you are still impacted by food insecurity and the issues on this campus.” Their last name was not provided.
“No one is immune to the catastrophic destruction that food insecurity has caused at the University of British Columbia," they said.
Two members of Musqueam nation gave a land acknowledgement. Elder Martin Sparrow welcomed students with a song, and Shona Sparrow emphasized the importance of food security and sustainability.
“We are … Musqueam fishermen, so we all know about the food sustainability, the food, how important the food is for each and every one of you. We live it, we breathe it,” Shona Sparrow said.
The final student speaker of the day, former Sprouts president and fifth-year student, Emma Gunn, questioned UBC’s current tactics to address food security. “UBC admin tells us people are food insecure because of some abstract reason that we can never know," said Gunn. "But we know this isn’t true, and we know where the problem lies.”
“The truth is, people are food insecure because they do not have enough money to buy food,” Gunn said.
Students then entered the library and delivered a physical copy of the open letter to the President’s office. Attendees taped a copy of the letter and signs across the walls outside the office.
In his statement, Parr wrote, “The administration has since pursued a long-term plan for addressing affordability in the Student Affordability Task Force report… We are currently exploring long-term funding to provide ongoing, stable support for food security-related needs.”
Whether UBC’s plan for reducing food insecurity on campus will prove adequate to students remains to be seen. For students such as Anniruddha Methi, an international exchange student studying psychology, the answers to these questions will have a significant impact on wellbeing.
“I have been lucky enough to get food, but it’s so expensive,” Methi said, “I don’t have money for anything else.”
This article was updated at 10:09 a.m. on October 24 after a previous version misspelled Gedik's last name. The Ubyssey regrets this error.