Lettuce Eat volunteer connects group’s work with her undergraduate research
Every two weeks, a group of Mount Allison students get together on a Sunday night, cook for two to three hours, and the next day serve a free lunch to 70 to 100 other students and community members. This is an initiative called Lettuce Eat. One of these students, Olivia Medsger, is taking the experience with this group and connecting it with her research on campus food systems as part of an independent study.
Medsger, who graduates this year with a major in Environmental Studies, created a report that consolidates past and current information on the food system at Mount Allison and case studies from other universities to determine best practises. She realized that if she extended this report, she could address a problem that many student organizations have, how to pass on the knowledge of running these organizations when the people who have been holding the senior positions graduate.
“I decided what I wanted to do is to provide a guide with a section about the history of Lettuce Eat, why it is important, and how we make it all happen. I am hoping that it will not sit on a shelf,” says Medsger.
Her research was helped by attending the Food Secure Canada National Assembly and Meal Exchange Student Summit in Montreal in November. Twenty-three campuses took part and Medsger was able to learn what these schools are doing to create environmentally-sustainable and socially-just campus food systems.
Medsger, who is from Kitchener, ON also spent a term on exchange on Haida Gwaii, with the Haida Gwaii Higher Education Society. This experience broadened her thinking about the importance of food.
“We had so many shared meals with people and lots of fresh fish so that opened my eyes to the cultural and spiritual connection people have with food,” she says. “Food can be very complex, but I am taking what I have learned about a very place-based food system and applying it to fit the context of Sackville and Mount Allison.”
Her advisor on the project was Geography and Environment professor Dr. Michael Fox.
“An enormous part of one’s university education is gained outside the classroom by experiencing the living conditions and social relationships and problems that are part of any community,” says Fox. “Olivia’s work is an important step in connecting the whole Lettuce Eat local food awareness and security issue to Sackville. Creating an historical and accurate account of how the whole process has developed over the past five years is an important and meaningful contribution to our overall educational mission in this place.”
Lettuce Eat was started in 2015 and was initially about reducing food waste. It has evolved and is now supported by a student levy of $1 from every student’s tuition fees.
“It is cool to see a mix of students and community members all in the same room sharing a free warm lunch,” says Medsger. “I see this report as just one component of a larger project. I hope the recommendations I’ve made can be considered and that if another student comes along who is interested in food systems then the report can be used for reference. The ultimate goal would be for this to function as a living document that is used for reference, updated, and modified over the years.”
Photo captions: Olivia Medsger
A Lettuce Eat gathering at the Sackville Commons this year