VIU Grad Leaves Legacy Related to Food Security and Sustainability

Celia White, a VIU graduate and the University's Healthy Communities Coordinator for the past year, is taking her passion for food security and sustainability to the provincial and national level as she begins a new position with The Meal Exchange, a national youth led non-profit organization.

April 30, 2015 - 10:15am

Celia White is taking her passion for sustainability and food security to the provincial and national level.

White’s term as Healthy Communities Coordinator at Vancouver Island University (VIU) in Nanaimo ended in April but she’s beginning a new job with The Meal Exchange, a national youth led non-profit organization based in Toronto.

“I’m applying for grant money to create a western branch in Vancouver and will be launching a new program called the Real Food Challenge in BC,” says White, who graduated from VIU with a double major in Anthropology and Global Studies in 2013.

“The project will determine standards for ‘real food,’ meaning food that is environmentally sustainable, humane, socially just, and beneficial to the local economy. The goal is to develop standards and then assess purchasing policies of BC universities in order to increase their percentage of real food purchases.”

As the Healthy Communities Coordinator at VIU for the past year, White made lasting improvements to VIU’s sustainability and food security initiatives.

VIU now hosts a twice weekly Farmer’s market on the Nanaimo campus during the peak harvest season ( VIU students volunteer with the Nanaimo Community Garden’s Glean Team, and staff and students participate in bi-monthly field trips to a local farm where they volunteer in exchange for free, fresh local vegetables.

White’s interest in food security, sustainability and global issues was fueled while taking classes with VIU Anthropology professor Dr. Imogene Lim and VIU Global Studies professor Dr. Catherine Schittecatte.

As an undergraduate student, she became a founding member of the VIU World University Service of Canada Committee, which sponsors refugee students to complete their education in Canada, and a key player (and one of the inaugural coordinators) in VIU’s Campus Food Movement.

In between organizing events for both clubs and helping integrate WUSC sponsored students into Canadian life, White focused her course work on human rights and the local connection to international food system sustainability.

In her third year, she won an Irving K. Barber British Columbia Scholarship from the BC government, and used it to complete a summer internship in a village near Dehradun, India.

There, she ran a gardening project with local children and conducted research on the most desired local foods in the community, while maintaining her daily duties on a seed saving farm.

Initially, White envisioned a future career abroad, yet her experience in India developed her understanding of the global impacts of local actions.

After she graduated in 2013, White’s passion for local sustainability encouraged her to submit a proposal to VIU administration for a Healthy Communities Coordinator on campus.

With the support of Dr. Dave Witty, VIU Provost and Vice-President Academic, and a grant contributing 50 percent of the costs, White was hired on contract to continue work on sustainable food projects that she was deeply involved with as a student.  

Her first task was to connect VIU curriculum with food related research in hopes of building a purchasing system at the University focused on local, organic and fair trade foods. She served on VIU’s Food Services Advisory Committee, and met with hundreds of faculty and students across disciplines, encouraging them to engage in active research projects.

White believes the momentum she helped create on campus will continue with new student leaders trained and ready to take over the Campus Food Movement next semester.

Looking back at her time as a student and then an employee, White says VIU “opened up countless extraordinary opportunities - from working for professors, to developing my own directed study course, to participating in extra-curricular activities, to traveling to India.”

One of her greatest achievements was having an article published in a scholarly anthropology journal and winning the National Association for the Practice of Anthropology's Student Achievement Award—all while an undergraduate student.

“I encourage any young student to get involved in the campus community,” she says. “There are so many opportunities to develop your skills outside of the classroom. You truly can create your own educational experience and your future career opportunity. Be visionary and be open to all possibilities.”

White graduated from Wellington Secondary School in 2008 where she gained considerable experience working on community action projects – she was a founding board member of the Village Medical Project for Sierra Leone, and involved with the local organization Alianza, which raised money for health care in Guatemala.

She enrolled at VIU because of the interdisciplinary nature of the Global Studies and Anthropology programs, small class sizes and faculty interaction. 

“It proved to be the perfect learning environment where I could understand my place in this vast, complicated world, and learn to identify my own assumptions and biases that I didn’t even know I had,” she says.

“Ultimately, Celia created opportunities in which she ran with boundless energy and enthusiasm,” adds Dr. Lim.  “She'll be missed, but we'll be looking to see what she accomplishes next.”



Janina Stajic, Manager, Vancouver Island University

P: 250.740.6288 E: Twitter: @viunews

Tags: Our Alumni