Lunch got political last Thursday and Friday, when hundreds of students pocketed their wallets in favour of free vegan food during a two-day boycott of corporate food services on campus.
Volunteers focused their efforts on the areas outside the McLennan-Redpath library and the Engineering cafeteria, setting up Midnight Kitchen serving stations offering burrito wraps and vegetables.
The supply of wraps, rice, and vegetables was exhausted within half an hour, according to Dana Holtby, a member of the Food Services Committee, a coalition of the Grassroots Association for Student Power (GRASPé) and Midnight Kitchen, which organized the event.
“It’s been pretty successful in terms of food distribution. We ran out of food pretty quickly and we’ve had a lot of people coming up and asking questions,” Holby said.
The boycott aimed to sensitize students to McGill’s ongoing efforts to corporatize food services on campus, as well as highlight the benefits of student-run alternatives like Midnight Kitchen, Architecture Café, AUS Snax, and Frostbite.
Maria Forti, a GRASPé member of the Committee, explained that many students were unaware of McGill’s trend of curbing student involvement in food services.
“A lot of people don’t know that eight student-run cafés have been shut down since 2001. They’re surprised to hear it,” Forti said.
McGill began centralizing food services in 2000, when it appropriated the Redpath Library cafeteria and the Bronfman Cafeteria from SSMU and the Management Undergraduate Society, respectively.
In 2001, student associations in Arts, Music, and Engineering sold their cafeterias to the school; in 2004, McGill appropriated the McGill Bookstore Café from student management.
Last semester, McGill attempted to close down the Architecture Café, but ultimately appropriated it under a joint managerial system between students and Ancillary Services. The Food Services Committee is loosely modelled after the Coalition for Action on Food Services, a group that in 2004 successfully campaigned against the monopolization of food services on campus.
Chartwells is a corporate cafeteria chain accused of employee mistreatment, inflated prices, and poor variety.
Flyers advertising the boycott argued that student-run initiatives are superior to corporate cafeterias, citing sustainability and the availability of organic and vegan options among the advantages.
Bill Pageau, Director of McGill’s Food and Dining Services, said in an email to the Daily the the boycott was premature given that his team is currently undertaking a campus-wide survey of student views on food services that will soon be released.
“The survey will help us understand more fully the needs and expectations of the broader McGill community when it comes to food services,” Pageau wrote.
The boycott was publicized on campus through fliers and posters all last week – but some students who received the free food were confused about the purpose of the action.
“I’m not too sure what they’re boycotting for. They didn’t inform us,” said Kim, a U1 student.
In addition to corporatization issues, GRASPé members called attention to SSMU’s responsibility to support student-run operations. With the Caférama space in Shatner up for grabs, the Committee argued it should be occupied by a student-run initiative, given SSMU’s General Assembly mandate to prioritize student-run inititaties in Shatner.
“One big thing that we’re trying to do is get people to send letters to SSMU to make the Caférama space student-run,” Forti said.
Though the committee is made up of Midnight Kitchen collective members, they claim they would be happy to see SSMU accept any of the three student-run services applying for the space.
GRASPé is encouraging students to write letters to their SSMU faculty representatives and executives, pushing for the former Caférama space in Shatner to turn student-run, Forti said.
A Chartwells manager said she was not allowed to comment on the boycott.
– with files from Shannon Kiely