Miguel Angel, a student at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT), says he tries to be as conscious with his eating habits as possible. He tries to find healthy options for lunch at school, but it isn’t always easy.

“Depends of the day, depends how I’m feeling and depends on what my bank account looks like,” says Angel.

Angel is not alone. Despite most students know the importance of eating healthily, the higher cost of those foods can often encourage students to pick cheaper, less healthy options.

On Jan. 26, about 250 people, Angel included, gathered at the University of Calgary Alberta Room to participate in a series called Calgary and Beyond Sustainability in the Next 20 Years. The talk, entitled Food: A Grassroots Future? is part three of a four-part series.

The topic may be new to some, but it relates to every human on earth.

Marit Rosol, Canada Research Chair in Global Urban Studies and one of the panelists, says it’s a problem that also affects campuses across the country.

“Hungry, ill-fed, students will not be efficient learners,” she explains.

Rosol understands the struggle students face daily when choosing a proper meal. Even on campus there are very few healthy options available.

“Why would a student pay $5 for a tomato when they can buy a Big Mac from McDonalds for the same price and feel full?” says Rosol.

Kris Vester, owner of Blue Mountain Biodynamic Farm and another panelist, is a firm believer healthy eating involves eating as little processed food as possible.

Processed foods, says Vester, contain no nutritional value and really don’t do the body much good. A human body requires many key nutrients that it can only get from food, which is why it is important to eat a healthy diet.

cb-bodyA platter of fresh veggies, accompanied by more trays of beautifully assorted colourful foods awaited the crowd after Food: A Grassroots Future? On Jan. 26. Photo by Carlie Belbin

“[Food] is the energy that you are putting into your body but it’s also the basic building blocks for all of your cellular regeneration. So the better the food that you put in to you, the better your source of energy and the better your building materials.”

Vester also explained the importance of cooking meals at home and buying groceries locally to support our farmers.

Vesser stresses that people need to start making a very serious change now. Every food purchase we make has a “vote” attached to it – and we make a choice of who we support with every item.

“[There is] a serious impact on what food that’s being in the marketplace,” explains Vester.

“If you chose to buy good and healthy food, especially raw food, you’re supporting that sector of the agricultural economy and not the sector that pumps out super processed, pretty trashy, stuff.”

According to the panel, large food corporations are able to sell their product at such affordable prices because it is made out of genetically modified organisms and with a lot of added preservatives which gives it a longer shelf life.

In our society, it is far easier to buy the cheaper item and feel “full” for the short-term. However, these items which we turn to for a quick fix end up doing no good to our bodies in the long term and does not help the sustainable food industry.

After the talk, participants made their way to a few large buffet tables in the centre of the conference room. These tables were covered with trays of beautifully assorted colorful foods – freshly baked yam fries, rice wrapped salad rolls and every delectable pastry you could imagine – things you don’t normally see in a university cafeteria.

Past the delectable food, an information booth was being managed by high school student Deborah Freino, who volunteers with The Alex Food Centre.

For Freino, her volunteer work providing for families in need is her contribution to encouraging food security.

“We have a lot of drop-in cooking classes, also a social justice cooking class where we eat and talk about social justice problems in society,”says Freino.

There are plenty of opportunities for Canadians to get involved in addressing the importance of food security and sustainability.

For Angel, he says he will start with spreading the word. He intends to start visiting farmers markets more frequently. And instead of making his way to the SAIT cafeteria at lunchtime, he plans on taking more healthy, home-cooked, meals with him to school.

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