If you’ve been on campus recently, you’re likely to have noticed something new. Maybe on the counter menu at your favourite lunch spot. Or maybe on the menu in your local coffee shop. Or that huge poster, in Kate Edgar on the way to the Quad.
Better Kai. What is that?
Jess and Anna are both recently graduated dieticians, who spent the latter half of 2020 working on the Better Kai project, an initiative that highlights the healthiest options on the menu at a particular vendor. At the heart of the project is education.
“We didn’t use nutrition software because it’s something we want the public to be able to do…. Learning how to eyeball it,” says Jess. They also want it to function as a myth buster.
Anna notes there are so many definitions of what is healthy, but Jess and Anna worked with the vendors to identify some key aspects. They wanted to identify options with servings of fruit and vegetables, options with wholegrains vs. refined grains, and lean sources of protein.
“We want to give people the information, bring it into their consciousness about what a healthy decision is,” says Anna. But they also wanted to change the conception that “healthy” options are the most expensive. One example they gave was the Shadows food menu: “People don’t know that Shadows does food,” said Anna, “but they have a good menu that’s affordable. We suggested things like the chicken and veggie wraps.”
“Sometimes the sticker is there for the size options,” Anna continued. “We tended to put the sticker on the smaller option because… bang for your buck is not necessarily bang for your body,” she said. “Everything is okay in moderation.”
The founders also acknowledged that healthy eating can be maintained daily. They believe that healthy eating doesn’t always look the same, and emphasised that they chose a wide range of options at the vendors because of that. They said they wanted to inform students on what healthy eating can look like.
Eliena and Tina are two first year Masters of Dietetics students that are taking over the project. They agree with Jess and Anna that eating healthy is a wholistic term. “Healthy eating is about what’s good for not only your body, but mentally,” said Eliena. “Comfort food is healthy eating for me,” added Tina. The vendors they chose were not always what you’d expect, either. “I’m interested in the Gong Cha options; they have the Better Kai stickers,” said Tina. “I think it’s mostly the health teas and the brewed teas without sugar.”
Healthy eating shouldn’t be restrictive either, notes Eliena. “It should be something that you enjoy. It doesn’t have to be a salad, it can be something like grilled chicken instead of fried.” Anna adds, “what are the choices that are going to nourish our mind, body and soul?”
Tina and Eliena want to add a sustainability element in the future also. “We are working with the Sustainable Future Collective on campus, discussing whether we can approach the retailers to use compostable packaging,” says Tina.”It’s ambitious, and maybe not possible right now, but where we want to work towards.”
“Eating is such a big part of the world,” she adds, “The farming industry, dairy industry, the environment. Everything is linked together in the ecosystem. The way we eat is very influential to the Earth as well.”
Eliena says it’s a guide: “The sticker means you don’t need to think about it too much.” Anna adds that it’s about changing the environment in which we make decisions too, so we don’t fall back on our usual choices. Anna says that the stickers “help people make informed decisions.”
However, Anna and Jess don’t want to be the food police. “It’s about the bigger picture. It’s not about being healthy all the time, it’s about consistency over time.” As Eliena put it, “it’s another tool in the tool box.”
At the end of the day, Better Kai is an initiative about making choices that align with your values. All agreed that eating is essential to a student life: it has an effect on performance, on wellbeing, on energy levels. And as university students, don’t we have enough to worry about? AUSA thinks so at least, backing the initiative by working with their team to oversee the project. In future, sustainability elements will hopefully make Better Kai better for the planet, too.
“We want our students to eat healthy,” said Tina, “[but more importantly], take care of themselves first.”