Side Dish ….


Food collective brings healthy fare to
campus and community


The tables near the entrance of the store are a popular meeting spot for customers and volunteers to share meals, stories, and food-related knowledge. Above BSFC operations manager Gwen von Klan (left) confers with food events coordinator Grace Lihn. (Photo by Jonathan Reader)

The tables near the entrance of the store are a popular meeting spot for customers and volunteers to share meals, stories, and food-related knowledge. Above BSFC operations manager Gwen von Klan (left) confers with food events coordinator Grace Lihn. (Photo by Jonathan Reader)

When UC Berkeley proposed bringing a Panda Express onto campus in 2009, a group of students did what Berkeley students do best: They protested. The university rescinded the proposal, and instead of a fast-food chain, the campus community acquired a unique food enterprise devoted to good health: the Berkeley Student Food Collective.
By 2010, a group of highly motivated students had embarked on the challenging process of fundraising (applying for grants, hosting galas, requesting donations), finding a physical location for the store, creating a feasible business plan, achieving nonprofit status, researching inventory, and finding suitable equipment.

Now located directly across from campus and fondly referred to by its members and customers as the “BSFC,” the Collective is the only nonprofit, mission-driven grocery store in Berkeley. Collective members are primarily current students who identify with that Berkeley brand of revolutionary idealism, advocate for healthy, sustainable, and affordable food, and have an appreciation for practical hard work. It’s a democratically run organization in which each member has one vote in any and all decision-making. Anyone can become a member by volunteering in the store for at least 2 hours per week and attending membership meetings every two weeks. In addition to the volunteers, the store has one full-time paid position, that of operations manager.

Since its inception, the organization has sought to expand and innovate. This year saw, among other initiatives, the start of a wildly popular CSA (community-supported agriculture) program.

(Photo by Justin Michael)

(Photo by Justin Michael)

“Customers were asking about local CSA options, and one of our member volunteers was interested in starting up a similar program at our collective,” operations manager Gwen von Klan explains. “In fall 2012, we assembled a committee, which decided to offer the program on Fridays when we receive most of our boxed grocery deliveries so that customers can reuse old boxes to take the produce home. Now we deliver the boxes to various departments on Cal’s campus and our customer list grows every semester.”

Another innovation has been the Collective’s merger with The Local, an on-campus food group that buys produce in bulk at weekend farmers’ markets and then sells it to the campus community on Mondays for the price at which it was purchased. Because The Local has maintained strong relationships with farmers’ market vendors for a few years now, the group receives a considerable discount on the produce.

(Photo by Justin Michael)

(Photo by Justin Michael)

“Part of the Food Collective’s mission is to provide a space for food education and environmental awareness,” says the group’s food events director Grace Lihn, “whether it’s through community events, storefront activities, or collaboration with other student groups in campus-wide initiatives.” To enrich these events, the Collective is spearheading Catering to Educate, a project that will incorporate education about food systems and environmental stewardship into its catering service. Events will offer presentations, food items labeled with their sources and food miles, store representatives on hand to answer questions, and educational materials about the environmental and social impacts of eating locally.

With its abundance of tireless volunteers and dedicated customers, the Berkeley Student Food Collective is showing no signs of slowing down. Additional store space in the newly renovated UC Berkeley Lower Sproul courtyard area would allow for a larger kitchen space and more room for educational events and cooking workshops. It would help the group with its ambitions of reaching and serving the larger off-campus community with good and affordable food, as well as acting as a local hub for leadership development and food-related education.

Stop by the store to experience the commitment. Whether it is a food preparation volunteer setting out freshly made hummus for sale, a storefront volunteer tidying up the produce fridge, or a cashier making cheery banter with a customer, the energy and devotion is palpable. •

Berkeley Student Food Collective
2440 Bancroft Way, #102, Berkeley
Open Mon–Fri 9am–8pm, Sa–Su 11am–6pm

“Shroom! There it is!” Vegan Sandwich

This “good-for-you” sandwich was a winner in a recent collective recipe competition. It’s best when made with all local and organic ingredients. Plan on marinating the mushrooms and making the pesto in advance.

Portobello mushrooms, 1 per sandwich
Olive oil: enough to coat the mushrooms, plus a bit extra
Salt and pepper to taste
Focaccia bread
Vegan pesto (recipe at right)
Kale, rinsed and thick ribs removed
Red bell pepper, rinsed and sliced
Vegan cheese (any brand you like)

Remove stems from mushroom and place caps in a bowl with olive oil, salt, and pepper to marinate for an hour. When ready to grill, remove from marinade and grill over high heat for 10 minutes, flipping every few minutes.
Cut focaccia bread open, applying as much delicious vegan pesto as desired to both sides. Then layer in the vegan cheese, kale leaf, and sliced bell pepper. Top with the grilled mushroom and enjoy!

Vegan Pesto

Adapted from a recipe by Jolinda Hackett on

1½ cups fresh basil leaves
1/3 cup olive oil
1 cup walnuts
5 cloves garlic
1/3 cup nutritional yeast
¾ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper

Combine all pesto ingredients in a food processor until walnuts are ground. The pesto should retain some of its texture and the final result should not be completely smooth. Add more salt and pepper to taste.