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Caffiends is a student-run, volunteer-operated cafe at Victoria College at the University of Toronto. The food and beverages sold at Caffiends are fair-trade, organic, vegan, nut-free and gluten-free, while the supplies (mugs, stir sticks) are reusable or biodegradable. Caffiends not only educates volunteers on social justice issues and the importance of purchasing Fair-Trade, ethical products, but fosters an intimate community where students can study, relax, and interact. The co-managers of the café, Caroline Nguyen and Olivier Smith talked with us about the café’s nomination as a Healthy Campus Champion. 

In the nomination, the student states that, “Caffiends is a welcoming community for everyone, including staff and volunteers, creating both a place to study and socialize.’ Furthermore, the student states that, “the food and beverages are fair-trade, organic, vegan, nut-free and gluten-free, while the supplies (mugs, stir sticks) are reusable or biodegradable.” Could you tell us a bit more about how you accomplish this, and why it’s an important aspect of the company?

I think one of the priorities that Caffiends has taken, because it is a community-oriented organization, has been well-being on a very broad level. That’s tied into making volunteers feel good, and making customers feel accepted and comfortable in the space. So we’ve been very considerate what kind of culture is created in the café and also of dietary restrictions, whether they are for health reasons or an allergy or a choice.  We also make sure we buy locally, that everything is fair-trade all the way through the production process. The vast majority of the products are organic, and that’s a consideration and a care for well-being beyond what goes on inside the café. It’s a way to take a stance and support a movement that’s a bit larger than the café. For example, we don’t use paper cups (other than if we’re catering) so everything we sell is in ceramic mugs. Our stir sticks are actually pasta sticks, so you can stir and then throw them in the compost container. Any materials that are disposable are almost always recyclable or compostable, so there is very little that goes to waste. 

Discussions about health are often related to concerns about healthy eating, physical activity, managing stress and sleep. We’d be interested to hear from you, your thoughts on the concept of a healthy campus and how it can be integrated into University of Toronto?

While all those things are important, what we at Caffiends are trying to do is push for an idea of health that involves de-stressing and finding something that you’re passionate about amongst a group of people that are inclusive and welcoming to your ideas. You can do a lot of those things, like eating healthy and being physically active, but if you don’t have a sense of belonging on campus, especially at U of T where the campus is so big, you may not feel that you are gaining the most out of your university experience. At Caffiends, we have socials, we try to educate our customers and volunteers on why and what we are doing in terms of our products. It creates a hub for discussion, it creates a sense of community that contributes to students’ well-being and it has been contributing in ways that we weren’t expecting. We’ve been partnering with different organizations on campus, a lot of which are health-oriented in many ways. By catering events and by hosting them with these organizations, a lot of students start by being involved with Caffiends and end up being involved and connected to many organizations throughout the campus. We’ve been fostering a very large network that allows us to support this cause and contribute to many conversations in regards to health.

In the nomination, the student states that, “prices at Caffiends are affordable, and Caffiends provides a wonderful low-commitment way for students to get involved outside of the classroom through volunteering opportunities.” Please let us know what this nomination as a Healthy Campus Champion means to your company? 

It reaffirms what we are doing! There are so many facets of Caffiends that are amazing, like the fact that our coffee is 1$ despite it being organic, fair trade etc. The fact that we are able to create connections with local suppliers and organizations within the University or the fact that our volunteers feel so enthusiastic about Caffiends that they are even willing to nominate us - I think that it legitimizes what we are doing. This definitely highlights the broad impact that Caffiends has been having within the University. We started off as a coffee cart in this room ten years ago, and we are so much bigger now with a broader impact.  We recognize that our students want to get involved on campus and have a desire to contribute to our movement. At our highest, we had about 140 volunteers! Also, because our student body is so diverse, the students also learn from each other and gain different perspectives. 

We would also be interested to hear if you have any suggestions about what more could be done to foster campus environments that support the wellbeing of students?

Because U of T is so big, I would love if there were more opportunities across campus to connect with other wellness groups. I would love to collaborate with more groups outside of Victoria College, for example a U of T-wide environmental group, or a wellness group, or a physical activity group so that we can have socials with our volunteers and connect with them. Through this, we can spread the message that