We worked with the Director of the ASUC to understand and improve the awareness of food security among UC Berkeley students and develop methods to improve accessibility to healthy eating options within campus.
"1 in 5 UC Berkeley Students Reported Skipping Meals to Save Money" - Berkeley Food Pantry
"26% undergrads across all UC campuses reported often skipping meals to save money" - UC Undergraduate Experience Survey 2014
Compelled by the social outcome of such a project and from the above statistics, two fellow researchers and I realized that Food Security is an important issue that needs to be addressed within the UC Berkeley campus.
Skills and Methods
Observation Study, Survey Design and Analysis, Competitive Analysis, Diary Study Analysis
We broke down the problem and used different user research methods to deliver the following results to our client:
1. Current awareness of Food Security on the UC Campus
2. Recommendations to improve awareness and accessibility to healthy eating options.
At each step, we used different user methods based on the questions we wished to answer. The studies included :
Observations Study: Who are our clients? How do they usually operate?
Survey: What is the current understanding of Food Security?
Competitive Analysis: How are other institutions currently addressing this problem?
Diary Study: What does eating habits among students look like? What contributes to their eating habits?
Research Questions & Goals
1. What is the current understanding of food security among students?
2. What steps should be taken by the client to appeal to the target population?
1. Students are not aware of food security
2. Student life does not promote healthy eating
Our target audience comprised of undergraduate and graduate students at UC Berkeley. We did not consider PhD students in this study.
Following are some interesting findings from the survey:
1. Primary Source of Food for UC Students
With the survey, we were able to ask our users what their primary sources of food were. The options included - home-cooked meal, restaurant, fast food joint, campus restaurants and meal plans. We asked them to rank these options from 1 to 5.
18/28 respondents chose ‘Eating at a restaurant’ as 1.
13/28 respondents ranked ‘Home-cooked meal’ as 2.
23/28 respondents ranked ‘Meal-plans’ as 5.
From the above, we recognized that students tend to prefer home-cooked meals or restaurants and Meals Plans don’t seem to be a popular option - even though it is easily accessible and cost efficient.
2. Barriers for healthy eating
From the graph, the main barriers to accessing food are “Lack of Budget” and “Lack of time”. This coincided with answers we got for what factors influenced their choice of food source where cost, convenience, healthiness and time were prominent factors.
3. Keeping updated with on-campus events
Over 60% of the students responded that their main source for campus initiatives was Social Media, followed by hearing about it from their social circles.
II. Diary Study
We decided to conduct a diary study in order to gain insight on the eating habits of students at UC Berkeley. In addition to understanding what students ate, we also hoped to gain a better understanding of the decision making factors behind their meal related decisions.
The study began with 13 participants with a total of 8 completing the entirety of the study. These 8 participants logged their meals over a period of 7 days. In addition to the foods they ate, participants were also required to report the date, time, source of food, reason why they chose it, and the activity they were doing before/ after. When analyzing these results as a team, we were able to categorize the survey participants into three main personas: the timely saver, the healthy eater, and the dependent eater.
The timely saver was characterized as an individual that primarily considered convenience and affordability when making meal related decisions. They were noted to often grab lunch at a restaurant on the way home from class, attend campus events that had free food, and/ or buy groceries in bulk during the weekends.
The healthy eater, on the other hand, took nutrition facts into consideration when selecting their food. They were seen to opt into eating fruits, consuming balanced meals, and/ or eating meals spaced in a timely manner.
The dependent eater was someone who had meals provided to them through an external entity. This mainly included freshman with meal points.
III. Competitive Analysis
The initial approach to Competitive Analysis was looking at Food Security Websites on a National Level. However, after better understanding the needs of the client, and receiving expert feedback, we decided to carry out a two-fold analysis. The first category of competitors included national food security websites while the second category concentrated on campus level food security organizations. You can find the analysis sheet here.
i) National Food Security Websites
Majority of these websites were fact based, providing information on food security prevalence, news, commodity prices, etc. It was interesting to see that all websites in this category failed to define the meaning food security and jumped straight into commodity prices and news updates on the lack of food security.
ii) Campus Food Security Awareness Websites
Campus websites were action based, defining ways and measures to combat food security on campus through food donation drives, food pantries, and various other awareness events.
Based on the insights gathered from the diary study, we realized there was a trend of students wanting quick but healthy food which was affordable. We added more parameters in the competitive analysis to include - blogs, quick and healthy recipes, details about closest farmer markets, and user testimonies. This was a key step in the competitive analysis as we understood there is a gap in user needs and current functioning of campus organizations.
Key Research Findings
1. Students were unaware of sources of healthy food options on campus. The sources they were aware of, like farmers produce market were inaccessible to them as they were away from campus.
2. School schedule played a vital role in student’s eating habits.
3. The layout of food options on and around campus played a significant role in deciding the source of meal for a student.
Recommendations for Client
The Director of ASUC position is held by a new person every year. Due to the disconnect in the student body, the current Director of ASUC was not aware of the status of food security awareness on UC Berkeley Campus and this was the first event organized by her in this position. After debriefing the client, we found out that ASUC has organized food security events on campus in the past, but it hasn’t delved deeper into understanding students’ views on food security and their eating habits.
Based on the client’s current awareness and our research, we proposed the following recommendations to effective tackle food insecurity on campus:
- Collaboration with the Food Pantry at UC Berkeley
- Marketing campaigns on social media to increase awareness about the ASUC and its collaboration with the Food Pantry
- Incorporating easy to make recipes on the website to encourage students to eat home-cooked meals
- Introducing food trackers to help students keep track of their eating habits
- Introducing new events on campus, such as food donation drives, farmer’s market pop up shop, etc.