Hundreds walk out of UBC classes to demand university action on food insecurity
University says it is increasing funding for its food security programs by $500,000 this year
Hundreds of students walked out of classes at the University of British Columbia on Friday afternoon to tell the university it needs to do more to address food insecurity.
The protest came after sustained criticism from students who say the university cut funding to food security programs and students are struggling to deal with the rising cost of food.
Students at the event, which was organized by food cooperative UBC Sprouts, pointed out that the university has an endowment of over $2.8 billion, yet some students were struggling to survive.
"People I know spend up to $800 a month [on food]," said Nick van Gruen, one of the students who walked out. "I don't buy food on campus just cause it's too expensive. I've just ruled that out for me."
An Alma Mater Society (AMS) report said that visits to the AMS Food Bank had increased nearly 500 per cent over pre-pandemic levels, as rising costs continue to hit students hard.
A statement from UBC Sprouts issued before the protest said that the university's funding for food security programs had dropped 83 per cent during the current academic year compared to 2021/22.
Gizel Gedik, co-president of the cooperative, said she wants the university to restructure the way funding decisions are made.
"It relies very heavily on UBC leadership's perspective and paid consensus, rather than based on community members and students," she told Stephen Quinn, host of CBC's The Early Edition.
"We are asking for students and staff at large to join food security work."
Gedik says the walkout, and an open letter they circulated beforehand, are students' last resort to force the university's hand and increase funding for food security programs.
University faced criticism before
In early September, UBC faced criticism over an email to alumni asking for a $10 donation to help food-insecure students.
"As part of our UBC alumni family, will you consider a gift of $10 to the UBC Meal Share program?" the email says, quoting Ainsley Carry, UBC's vice-president of students.
"Your gift will buy a student breakfast and show them that they're part of a community that cares."
The email noted that over 35 per cent of undergraduate students at UBC's Point Grey campus and 40 per cent at UBC Okanagan faced food insecurity.
"You see a lot of students picking up two or three part-time jobs," Eshana Bhangu, AMS president, said at the time.
"Food insecurity hasn't decreased so when you increase funding one year and the next year it goes back to what it was before, it just doesn't work."
UBC pledges to increase funding
Andrew Parr, UBC's associate vice-president of student housing, said Friday that the university is increasing funding for its food security programs by $500,000 this year.
Fifteen per cent of that funding — $75,000 — will go to programs at UBC Okanagan and $425,000 will go to programs at UBC Vancouver.
In addition to giving the AMS Food Bank $145,000, Sprouts will get an additional $30,000, and the meal-share program will receive an additional $210,000. Previously, the only university money going to the food bank was a $25,000 donation from the President's Office.
Parr disputed the criticism that funding was cut to food security programs, saying 2021/22 budget numbers were increased by one-time pandemic funding and that funding returned to pre-pandemic levels instead of being cut.
"We are currently exploring long-term funding to provide ongoing, stable support for food security-related needs," he said.
Gedik says the funding is unsustainable and would not last beyond the year.
"We believe that the money is one-time funding, and does not meet our demands," she said following the protest.
"It feels like hush money because UBC wants the problem to go away."
With files from Corey Bullock, The Early Edition, and Yasmin Gandham