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Sophia Baker-French studies how food gets onto our plates - photo by Martin Dee
Sophia Baker-French studies how food gets onto our plates - photo by Martin Dee

UBC Reports | Vol. 54 | No. 5 | May 1, 2008

Global Issues on Menu at the Local Café

By Basil Waugh

If you are what you eat, Sophia Baker-French would be one of the home-made quiches at UBC’s Agora Café.

The graduating Faculty of Land and Food Systems student says the quiches are more than just healthy and delicious. Made with local and organic ingredients, they represent a way for people to take real action on pressing global issues like climate change and rising food prices.

“Some people think they are powerless to address these issues, but our daily food choices have huge implications,” the 23-year-old says. “When people learn the benefits of choosing stuff that’s local and organic -- it’s usually a no-brainer, they’ll try to do what’s best for the planet within their ability.”

Agora is a great place to apply the teachings of her Bachelor of Science in Global Resource Systems, says Baker-French, who has managed the café for the past year. “Our program looks at how food gets onto our plates from a variety of perspectives, including environmental sustainability, economics, social justice and health and nutrition.”

Located in UBC’s MacMillan building, Agora has also given her a crash course in running a sustainable small business. Piling up to 40 hours per week on top of her studies, she trained volunteers, monitored food safety, improved ordering and inventory systems and sourced new local organic suppliers. Thanks to her efforts, the café now serves sustainable meals, snacks and beverages to as many as 150 students and faculty members every weekday.

Baker-French says mentoring Agora’s 70 student volunteers has been particularly rewarding. “Some have never set foot in a kitchen or held a knife, let alone prepared food properly,” she says. “These are really important skills they will be able to use for the rest of their lives.”

Two academic trips to Mexico with UBC and high school students were also highlights, she says. She studied corn tortillas from a variety of angles -- politics, history, economics and nutrition. 

Originally from Oakland, California, Baker-French is one of 1,150 U.S. students studying at UBC this year. She says she immediately fell in love with Vancouver’s physical beauty, its pursuit of green alternatives and especially her faculty’s passion for food.

“I actually got emotional when I first arrived here and saw how passionately our faculty was working with students and the community to improve our food system,” says Baker-French, who also prepares meals for community seniors and educates youth about food at UBC farm. “I felt as if, ‘finally, this is where I belong.’”

While her own organic restaurant is a definite possibility in the future, Baker-French is currently applying for public health and food security positions. “Right now, I really want to combine my passion for food and education to make the biggest difference I can.”

To view a short film of Sophia Baker-French's internship at Agora Cafe, visit: http://blogs.landfood.ubc.ca/learningcentre/2008/05/02/digital-stories.

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“Choices we make around food can have huge implications. The world isn’t going to change overnight, but small, incremental changes can add up to global change.”


Last reviewed 08-May-2008

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