Food Security at UC Berkeley


Project Goals

The goal of the project was to understand the current state of awareness around food security on campus and provide recommendations on how to help increase awareness and accessibility to healthy eating options for students.

This project was in collaboration with ASUC Director of Food Security, UC Berkeley

*ASUC - Association of Students of the University of California


According to UC Berkeley’s Food Pantry, 1 in 5 students reported skipping meals in order to save money.

As we looked into more details and surveys done around food security on campus, my teammates and I were determined to help bring about a change.

While starting the study, these were our initial assumptions:

  1. Students are not aware of food security

  2. Student life does not promote healthy eating


Survey Design, Survey Analysis, Observation Study, Diary Study


Our research study compromised of four components:

Figure: Research Plan

Figure: Research Plan

We started with an observation study of our clients. To understand the awareness of Food Security and the parameters for the Diary Study, we conducted a survey. From the results, we honed into a few parameters and studied the eating habits of students on campus through a Diary Study. Finally, we looked into other campuses as well as national organization’s initiatives around Food Security. We then presented a report to our client with all our findings and recommendations.

Understanding our client | Observation Study

One of the initiatives of our client was to have a produce stand on campus in collaboration with the Ecology Center. The stand was in place from 10:00AM to 3:00PM. We used this exercise to understand the operations of our clients and observe students coming to the produce stand and taking note of their questions.


The students who approached the stand asked questions about whether this would be regular event or where else they could get produce. This study helped us gain insights into the current initiatives taken up the client and source candidates for the diary study.


Understanding our Audience | Survey

To get a better sense of what Food Security looked like among all students, we distributed a survey among our network and the students who had come up the produce stand during the observation study. The survey consisted of 11 questions, 2 of which were related to participation in the Diary Study. The total number of respondents to the survey were 55 - 18 of whom were sourced from the produce stand and 37 were sourced from mutual circles.


What is the primary source of food for UC Berkeley students?

We asked our users what their primary sources of food was. 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.

Figure: Survey Result

Figure: Survey Result

What barrier do students face to access healthy food?

From the graph, the main barriers to accessing food are “Limited Budget” and “Lack of time.” This finding coincided with answers for what factors went into their choice of food source.

Figure: Survey Results

Figure: Survey Results

How do students learn about campus initiatives and drives?

Over 60% of the students responded that their primary source for knowing about campus initiatives was Social Media, followed by hearing about it from their social circles.

The results of the survey helped us frame questions for the diary survey as well as parameters for the Diary Study and Competitive Analysis

Studying Eating Habits | Diary Study

Rationale behind methodology

To gain insights into the daily eating habits of students campus, we decided to conduct a diary study over a duration of 7 continuous days. Additionally, we realized this would help us understand the reasons behind the food-related decisions made.

For the study, we recruited 13 participants, and 8 of them completed it by logging all their meals over 7 days. All factors they recorded includes - food item, date, time, the source of food, the reason why they chose that food item, and the activity they were doing before and after

Challenge #1

We wanted to make the diary study as easy as possible for the student. Using a diary study tool, would have been expensive for us as well as learning a new tool for the student would have caused more number of them to drop out.

To tackle this problem, we formulated all the tasks on a google sheet and created a document for each participant. Since the sheet was shared among us, we could regularly check-in and see how far along the participants were and whether they were facing any issues.

Figure: Google Sheet of a participant in the diary study

Figure: Google Sheet of a participant in the diary study

Challenge #2

We were aware that a large number of participants would drop out as it is difficult to be motivated for 7 continuous days to fill the diary study sheet. To motivate our participants, we sent regular emails to our participants based on their progress on the Google Sheet - checking in and telling them that they were doing a great job. To ensure the participants remained motivated we included a $30 Amazon coupon to one participant which would be picked out at random by us at the end of the 7-day study.


Looking over all the entries, we identified three personas:

Screen Shot 2018-09-22 at 12.33.38 PM.png

The time saver: 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.

Screen Shot 2018-09-22 at 12.37.27 PM.png

The healthy eater: An individual who 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 promptly.

The dependent eater: An individual who had meals provided to them through an external entity. This mainly included freshman with meal points.

Competitive Analysis

To come up with recommendations, we were curious as to what other organizations and universities were doing to tackle this problem. We explored factors such as visualizations they used, commodity pricing, food trackers/tools, information about programs, events, healthy recipes, data highlighting food insecurity, testimonies and blog. The analysis was performed across 10 organizations which helped us articulate out final recommendations to our client.

Research Findings

Here were some of our findings after performing the above methods:

  1. We were off the mark with our initial assumptions. Students on UC Campus are aware of healthy eating and exhibited habits that are focused on healthy eating

  2. The layout of food options across the campus played a significant role in deciding the source of meal for a student

  3. From the observation study at the produce stand, students raised questions that helped us realize that -

    • Students were unaware of sources for healthy food options

    • The options that were currently present weren’t readily accessible. For instance, the farmers produce markets are usually away from campus and not on campus


Based on the client’s current awareness and our research, we proposed the following recommendations to effective tackle food insecurity on campus:

  1. Collaboration with the Food Pantry at UC Berkeley

  2. Marketing campaigns on social media to increase awareness about the ASUC and its collaboration with the Food Pantry

  3. Incorporating easy to make recipes on the website to encourage students to eat home-cooked meals

  4. Introducing food trackers to help students keep track of their eating habits

  5. Introducing new events on campus, such as food donation drives, farmer’s market pop up shop, etc.

Key Learnings

Running a pilot study. For both the diary study as well as for the survey, it was critical to run a pilot study. The pilot study brought out additional factors that were not considered before.

Plan your study in advance. Pulling off a diary study in a short amount of time is a challenge. Though the duration of the study may be just a week, it requires weeks of planning and recruiting as many participants tend to drop out.

Feedback from peers. It is incredibly important to take feedback at every point from your peers. We had an opportunity to present our initial ideas to our class and this was very useful in the way it shaped our research plan.


Rajasi Desai and Sonia Salunke were my lovely teammates on this project and it was an absolute pleasure working with them! Together we also wrote an article on medium as our project was unique in including a diary study

Here’s our medium article on how to conduct a successful diary study in a short amount of time.


Starting off with understanding the client, I observed the produce stand and interactions between students and the produce department. Following that, I analyzed the survey findings and highlighted key insights from it. After my colleagues recruited members for the diary study, we planned it together and I interfaced with the participants over the duration of the diary study to check-in their progress and answer any questions. We analyzed results of the diary study as a team.

Image Credits for the icons for personas created for Diary Study:

  • Time by Dávid Gladiš from the Noun Project

  • Healthy by Yorlmar Campos from the Noun Project

  • Parental guidance by Sophia Bai from the Noun Project