Have you seen student food culture change in the last few years?
I’ve seen a big change since I was at university. The idea of there being any kind of student food society would have been laughed at back in the 90s.
Of course, there’ll still be that association between students and pot noodles or cheese toasties, but Student Eats has collected together a movement of food projects, from food growing to food co-ops and even food activism. People getting interested in the politics of food and where it comes from; asking why we’re told to eat a certain way, or eat certain things.
I think students should be active and outraged and shouting about their food, and I’m seeing a lot more of that coming through.
What can we encourage individual students to do to make better food choices?
It depends on what you’re passionate about. There are so many different aspects of the food system which you can impact on.
Certainly, thinking about where your meat and dairy comes from – and certainly cut back a bit. That’ll help your diet, and make a positive impact on sustainability – from greenhouse gases, to land use. That’s a big thing.
Also, eating together. It’s important to remember the food culture side. If you bring people together around food, you’re more likely to think about your food. A lot stems from there: where your food comes from, how it’s been reared, the sugar and salt content, all that sort of thing.
What about what students' unions can do to address some of the wider, more systemic problems?
I’ve been really encouraged by what I’ve been hearing at the Student Eats conference today.
It’s more than just growing a few carrots on campus. It’s about linking it all up. Making sure that local food is on menus, and getting involved in sustainable fish, these sorts of things.
We want university caterers to get rid of endangered fish, and only serve demonstrably sustainable fish, for example. We’re not that far off being able to say the majority of students are being served sustainable fish, and that’s fantastic.
Let’s start applying that to other things. Things like the Food For Life catering mark is a fantastic structure; using that student pressure to say to their caterers that they want better options, and universities can use these schemes to shout about these great things they’re doing.
Do you have a favourite meal?
It would involve cheese. I'd go for a simple Ploughman’s. Maybe not the healthiest thing – you’d need a nice local, organic salad on the side.
It would all be from small or local suppliers. Over the last ten years working with Sustain, it’s been so exciting to see the growth of great new small enterprises. I think we have more types of cheese than France now. Loads of new Real Bread bakeries. And in London, we’ve gone from having 3 breweries, to having nearly 100 today.
It’s really exciting, seeing people connect with their food, and really care about the quality of it. We’ve been going through a food revolution in this country, and long may it continue.
Bring the food revolution to your campus by signing up for Student Eats, getting your students involved in growing, enterprise and activism.