Many UB students complain about the food on campus, but not everyone is doing something about it.
Enter the Instagram account @ubmunchies, a one-stop nutrition resource for students launched by five PPE (Philosophy, Politics and Economics) minors seeking to advocate for healthy and affordable food options and tackle food insecurity on campus.
The account, launched in March, curates nutritional advice, local market and restaurant reviews and affordable, healthy recipes, but a Stampede bus line to the local farmers’ market appears to be next on its menu.
In its most ambitious project to date, the five PPE minors are partnering with UB Transportation Services to host a “UB Day” event at the North Tonawanda farmers’ market on Saturday.
Stampede shuttles will transport students between North Campus’ Lee Loop and the farmers’ market between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. The first 100 students to arrive will also receive a free $10 voucher for the market that day.
The @ubmunchies team spoke with The Spectrum several days ahead of their marquee event about their mission and what a simple trip to the farmers’ market could mean for beating back food insecurity on campus.
@ubmunchies is a product of the PHI 485 capstone course, in which students were tasked with building a grassroots project to “just make the world better.”
Jannat Inqiyad, a senior mental health and human services major and founding member, says the team came together with the goal of improving nutritional awareness for students.
“We saw that there was a need on campus due to the lack of access that students have toward healthy items,” Inqiyad said. “Most kids have meal plans or they can only get [food] from the Commons or the Student Union, and it’s all mainly fast food… We wanted to empower students to take control of their own eating habits and also obtain habits that have more of a sustainable outlook.”
To that end, @ubmunchies started by posting simple recipes for students to follow on Instagram. Local restaurant reviews followed in a bid to broaden horizons for students stuck on campus and to give back to the Buffalo community, according to @ubmunchies admin and senior finance major Evan Kuo.
“I’ve lived on campus for three years now, but I did not have any transportation outside of [the] Stampede for like, the first two years,” Kuo said. “Having recipes or restaurant highlights, kind of encourages people to try out, cook for themselves and maybe explore a little bit even though there might be some difficulties getting around.”
Fellow founding member Natalie Stevenson, a junior political science major, says her involvement stems from her personal experiences.
“Personally, I’m a first-gen student,” Stevenson said. “And I don’t really have a family base or anything, so I’ve kind of been on my own. If there was an accessible page like @ubmunchies, maybe when I was a freshman, that would have been quite a bit more helpful as someone who lives off campus because I cook all my meals.”
@ubmunchies seeks to keep its recipe costs to under $4 per serving, according to Stevenson.
Food insecurity is a prevalent issue on college campuses and has only been exacerbated by the pandemic. Thirty percent of college students reported experiencing food insecurity at some point in their college careers prior to the pandemic, according to Students Against Hunger, while a 2021 survey saw 38% of students in two-year institutions and 29% of students at four-year institutions report experiencing food insecurity within 30 days of responding.
Benjamin Weiner, a senior economics major, says that taking measures to resolve the issue is especially important because students are setting the habits they will continue into adulthood.
“We want these people to be able to make these decisions now when they’re in college because that’s usually the time in their life when they’re making decisions that are going to be lasting at least 20 to 30 years beyond that,” Weiner said. “We want to make sure that they’re having success throughout their whole life.”
But the group faces challenges moving forward. Many of its founding members are set to graduate within the next few months.
“We started this project with the idea that we want to do something that lasted longer than this semester,” Stevenson said.
The group is considering ways to inject new blood by opening applications or passing the project along to other PPE minors. But the inaugural team hopes to lay the groundwork for future members by kickstarting a lasting change on campus and in the community.
Stevenson says the “UB Day” event at the farmers’ market, and the prospect of a permanent Stampede route there, is the culmination of the group’s efforts over the last few months.
“We kind of started thinking, ‘Alright, well, what can we do that’s still gonna benefit the greater Buffalo area, but specifically help students, too?’” she said. “So we started to think of the farmers’ market and then, OK — is that something that’s going to be feasible?”
The @ubmunchies team pitched the idea to UB Transportation and farmers’ market vendors. They emerged with a date, Stampede shuttle service and another $1,000 to put toward a voucher system.
Beyond that, Stevenson says the @ubmunchies team is most enthralled by the prospect of UB making the Stampede route to the North Tonawanda farmers’ market permanent. But the feasibility of the project hinges on the success of Saturday’s event.
“Starting an initial event, obviously, is the first step in making sure that students are interested in it, that it’s something that’s going to be continuously feasible for the university,” Stevenson said. “If we can get past this original hurdle of having UB Transportation fund that route, then we’re kind of providing the best service that we can to students.”
Being able to secure the funds was one of the operation’s biggest obstacles, according to junior economics major Patrick Bridgham.
“The biggest struggle has just been navigating the bureaucracy of the UB administration,” Bridgham said. “Particularly with getting funding — we can’t really go into too much detail with that — but there’s a specific process that you go through to set up and allocate our funding. And I guess we just weren’t fully aware of the bureaucratic element and that it takes time for things to go through.”
The team is excited about the results and says that the runoff benefits of providing access to a farmers’ market would extend even further beyond the borders of the campus and help students integrate into the surrounding community.
“It’s kind of nice to get off campus sometimes, you know?” Stevenson said. “I mean, UB doesn’t really have any other lines that offer that besides just grocery stores, and I would not want to go hang out at a grocery store.”
A farmers’ market, @ubmunchies’ admins argue, would be able to accommodate both the social and nutritional needs of students better than their “bland” grocery store counterparts.
“You average 15 to 20 interactions at a farmers’ market, whereas at a grocery store, you only average about one to two,” Stevenson said. “Farmers’ markets also give a lot more money back into the local economy. You’re funding farmers, and things are much more organically sustained. And so that was another big jump for us, as we wanted to make sure whatever we are supporting is sustainable.”
@ubmunchies handpicked the North Tonawanda farmers’ market due to its proximity to campus. The market is about a 13-minute drive from the Student Union and is open on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, which the team hopes will accommodate the Stampede’s preexisting schedule.
“Obviously, this permanent bus line would be the biggest thing and that’s something that we’re still going to be fighting for even next semester if it doesn’t come to fruition right away,” Stevenson said.
In the meantime, the group says it is focused on making this weekend’s event a success.
“I think @ubmunchies has really been a way to bridge the gap between what we also felt like we were lacking on campus, especially with the COVID-19 pandemic, losing out on a lot of social interactions and things. Posting restaurant highlights and cooking things…” Stevenson paused. “It’s a way to kind of bring the community back together.”
Students can find nutritional resources and event updates on Instagram (@ubmunchies).
Kyle Nguyen is an assistant news/features editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Kyle Nguyen is a senior news/features editor at The Spectrum.