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SFU food leaders share sustainability strides at UN Food Systems Summit

July 25, 2023

A trio of leaders from SFU’s food programming team is in Rome this week for the United Nations (UN) Food Systems Summit to share how SFU and Chartwells Canada, the university’s on-campus food service provider, are innovating to meet UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The SFU delegates—Sid Mehta, senior director of Ancillary Services, Tammara Soma, professor of Resource & Environmental Management and Chef Steph Baryluk, recipe creator and cultural educator behind SFU’s Rooted program—together with Chartwells, are showcasing how their local food sourcing model contributes to meeting food security SDGs while also achieving industry-leading local food targets. 

L-R: Sid Mehta, senior director of Ancillary Services; Chef Steph Baryluk, recipe creator & cultural educator, SFU's Rooted program; Tammara Soma, professor of Resource & Environmental Management.

Key to SFU’s growing leadership in advancing local food programming is the SFU Food program, which from the onset has sought to incorporate more local options and support local food suppliers and businesses. The team is currently procuring up to 40 per cent of its food supply locally—and aiming to reach 50 per cent.

“In this critical conversation, we aim to stimulate fresh perspectives and inspire comprehensive action towards transforming our food systems,” says Mehta, who joined SFU after several years in the food sector. 

“SFU’s food programs are focused on responsible consumption, production and sustainability. Our commitment to supporting a robust food ecosystem allows us to contribute towards the UN SDGs. We strive to make a tangible difference in people’s lives—starting in our local communities and extending across the globe."

SFU’s global impact is notably reflected in its number one ranking in the 2023 Times Higher Education Impact Rankings for its global impact on sustainable cities and communities. The university also ranks fifth in the world for its response on climate action. The rankings measure universities’ strengths in advancing SDGs.

Making strides in food system transformation is an important component of SFU’s sustainability work, which supports UN SDGs throughout its operations. Among initiatives highlighting its commitment to sustainable consumption and production:

  • Working towards a goal of 50 per cent local food sourcing at SFU;
  • Using the Farm to Fork program at SFU to share information with students about new, local farmers;
  • Achieving LEED Gold Certification at the SFU Dining Commons (LEED certification is a globally recognized symbol of sustainability achievement in building design);
  • Using ‘Spotlight’ opportunities to highlight local vendors and their products, through inclusion in weekly menu items and on-campus activations;
  • Banning single-use plastics on campus under the SFU ‘RE-Use For Good’ initiative, as well as launching a reusable program with ‘Reuseables,’ a company supported by the university’s business accelerator, SFU VentureLabs;
  • Creating a variety of programs to combat food insecurity among students, including the ‘Connecting Through Food’ campaign, hosted by Chartwells this past year; and
  • Piloting programs on campus aimed at minimizing food waste.

Several initiatives are also underway at SFU’s Food Systems Lab, headed by research director and professor Tammara Soma. “As a large academic institution, our choice of food procurement will have ripple effects across the food system in B.C.,” says Soma, whose lab also advocates for a social innovation approach to food waste. 

“Our presence at the UN Food Systems Summit is a demonstration of SFU’s commitment to a more just and sustainable food system that also recognizes Indigenous food sovereignty. We hope to do more than talk, but actually walk the talk.”

New Indigenous food options are now available at SFU through the launch of Rooted, a program dedicated to showcasing Indigenous cuisine at SFU’s Dining Commons. 

The program is led by Chef Steph Baryluk from Teetl’it Zheh in the Northwest Territories, who completed her red seal at Vancouver Community College’s culinary program and draws inspiration from the cooking of her grandmothers. Soma credits Rooted with supporting local indigenous food sources and “contributing to a more equitable food system.”

Mehta says the university’s food sustainability impact will continue to grow with future plans that include advocating for B.C. as a hub for Asia-Pacific food systems transformation. 

“Our success would not be possible without a team that is firing on all cylinders,” he says. “From our excellent business partners to our team that channels relentless positivity, we’re very fortunate to have a top-notch approach to success.”

SFU and the Netherlands-based Wageningen University, which recently joined as partners in agritech innovation, are the world’s only educational institutions participating in the summit, expected to draw 2,000 attendees and an additional 50,000 participants attending online.