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Institute for Social Justice

Living Lab: Feeding the Campus

This Living Lab 2022-24 aims to create a campus food system that better meets the needs of both people and planet.

Chef giving cooking demonstration with person holding microphone for them while they cook in a frying pan

Food is so fundamental to our lives. The Living Lab takes a holistic approach to our food system, considering the social, economic and environmental factors.

Key research themes for Feeding the Campus include:

  • Food production: How, where and by whom is it produced? What are the impacts of this, and who benefits or suffers?
  • Food sharing: What shared practices revolve around food? This includes collective cooking habits, cooking skills and stories. Are too many people eating it alone?
  • Food identity: What does our personal and collective relationship with food mean to us? How does it create a sense of inclusivity or exclusivity? What memory and meaning does food ignite in us?

The answers to these questions add up to a 'food system'.

Creating real change on campus

Feeding the Campus includes over 800 students from over 25 modules, in all 5 Schools of the University.

This short film shares the project's progress so far: Living Lab: Feeding the campus - The story so far (YouTube).

The Living Lab provides the opportunity for students to work collaboratively with academic staff and professional teams including Catering, Estates, Careers, the Students Union, and Student Finance, to ensure real change occurs on campus.

In particular, the canteen is drawing on student input in working towards Soil Association Food For Life status, and the Grounds team is working with the Living Lab to engage students in food growing on campus.

Students are active in the Living Lab not only as learners but as leaders – whether as paid interns or Students as Researchers, volunteer bloggers or designers, filmmakers, campaigners, or coordinators of sub-projects such as the York St John Student Cookbook.

The York St John Student Cookbook was created by an editorial team of 21 volunteer students from 6 different degree programmes, sharing not just recipes but stories of students' food memories, identities, values and challenges. 

Download the cookbook: York St John Student Cookbook 2023 (PDF, 2.9 MB)

The student team encourage you to make a 'pay-as-you-can' donation to York-based food support charity The Collective Sharehouse.

See a range of short films about Living Lab projects here: Films from the Living Lab.

Key projects for 2023-2024

YSJ Food Stories

'YSJ Food Stories – student culinary culture in the cost-of-living crisis' builds on the Cookbook. Led by students from Publishing, History, Literature, and Film, we will continue to deepen our understanding of these issues by gathering more student stories and sharing them as a form of activism: as films, publications, practical kits, and campaigns.

Anyone is welcome to get involved in this interdisciplinary project. Please do get in touch if you would like to join workshops and story collecting or editing sessions.

To join the Moodle page email

'The Garden' student café

'The Garden' student café is a new enterprise set up by students, for students. Piloting in early October, you will see updates and invitations to come along via social media and through our Moodle page.

Community gardening

We want to grow our community gardening community! Would you like to spend some time in the fresh air? Learn how to grow herbs and fresh food? Or make a difference to green spaces on campus? This year Occupational Therapy students will be sharing more opportunities for getting involved via social media and Moodle.

Wild Wednesdays

First session: Every Wednesday at 1.00pm to 3.00pm
Meeting point: Outside the Students' Union building on the right hand side (nearest to Temple building where there are small planters). Look out for the Wild Wednesday sign!

Join our Grounds team on campus for hands-on activities and meet fellow garden goers. Email for more information.

The team will also be sharing helpful tips for taking care of your home plants, windowsill gardens and, most importantly, yourself!

Please fill out this form if you plan on joining a session and to keep up to date on community gardening activities!

Wild Wednesdays sign up form

Download our nature map to see the meeting point: Campus Nature Map - Wild Wednesdays (PDF, 4.9 MB)

Download our poster: 5 tips to look after your plants and yourself (PDF, 1.7 MB)

Previous projects

Some examples of previous projects include: 

  • Psychology and Geography students collaborating to understand students' food choices and experiences of food poverty
  • Graphic Design students developing more easily recyclable pizza boxes and promoting plant-based options
  • Business students investigating the ethics of the Catering operation's suppliers (YouTube)
  • Fine Art students creating an exhibition around conviviality, wellbeing and food anxieties
  • Bioscience students making podcasts about the biology of diet-related disease
  • Music and Drama students making performances exploring food issues through recipes
  • Literature students documenting the Living Lab through the project blog
  • Living Lab and Estates intern, filmmaker Mhairi Fox, working with Drama students to make entertaining 'micro-horror' films to engage the campus community with waste reduction and recycling. Watch the Disposable video or Contamination video on Vimeo.

Beyond the campus

Feeding The Campus also looks beyond the campus, to how York St John can actively contribute to the emergence of a resilient local food system in York and the region.

Through teaching, research and campus operations, staff and students are reaching out to local food projects and social enterprises to learn from them, volunteer for them and support their work.