Sustainability, food security goals of student-driven project
A group of UBC Okanagan students are hoping to save the planet, one meal at a time.
The students, working under the university’s Enactus program, have reinitiated Smart Meals—a program where people raise money for food banks while buying items from sustainable, plant-based restaurants and merchants.
The students have teamed up with a number of establishments, the newest being the Vegetarian Butcher a plant-based grocery and deli in Kelowna. When a smart meal is purchased from the business, the owner then contributes money to the Central Okanagan Food Bank. The pilot project in December raised more than $230 for the food bank with 115 holiday meals purchased. This month, all smart salads purchased at the Vegetarian Butcher will raise additional funds for the food bank.
“This is more of a social movement than it is about fundraising,” says Mohana Rambe, a third-year Faculty of Management student. “We are raising money, but we’re doing it passively. People are buying a product they want from a client-friendly business, and that business is supporting us by making the donation.”
Rambe became involved with the Smart Donate project last summer through an undergraduate research award from the Regional Socio-Economic Development Institute of Canada.
Smart Meals comes out of the Smart Donate project curated by Dr. Eric Li, an associate professor in the Faculty of Management. The Smart Donate project, explains Li, aims to create an ecosystem connecting local businesses and community members with charities and non-profit organizations through a digitally-integrated platform.
Marcelle Moreira, an ecology and evolutionary biology undergraduate student with a minor in economics, notes that other than connecting donors with beneficiaries, there are two other goals behind smart meals.
“First, we envision tackling food insecurity and that’s why we direct our partners to make donations to the food bank,” she says. “Secondly, we envision doing so sustainably. That’s why we address the environmental impact of food by having our smart meals be plant-based and/or local.”
For their partnerships, the students are working with locally-owned, small businesses that strive to be as sustainable as possible. Other than the Vegetarian Butcher other partners include Sajiva Kombucha, Start Fresh Kitchen and the Yanapana Project.
The Yanapana project, run by UBCO alumna Jodie Panchi, offers Spanish lessons to raise money for food hampers for families suffering from malnutrition in Ecuador. Kelowna residents can get involved by purchasing smart meals at the Vegetarian Butcher and entering a draw for a free Spanish lesson.
“While we are raising money, we believe creating a social movement is more important,” says Rambe. “We are making people more aware of where their money is going. I think it’s important they know when they buy a salad from the Vegetarian Butcher, some of that money is going to the food bank to help families that cannot afford to have three nutritious meals a day.”
The group of seven students volunteer their time and are continually reaching out to food suppliers and restaurants, with the goal of getting more on board. They are hoping to get the message to as many people as possible about food security, sustainable meals and helping each other in the community.
“The decision to have our smart meals be environmentally-friendly came very naturally. It only made sense, as we were trying to make it people-friendly in the first place,” says Moreira “We are really focusing on sustainable development with the goal of creating more good than harm.”
Information about the Yanapana Project can be found at: yanapanaproject.org