McGill Food and Dining Services (MFDS) is developing a new commission to work with students to improve transparency and publish relevant financial information after controversy over food price hikes.
MFDS was heavily criticized in January when students from several McGill residences returned to find that food prices in their cafeterias had been raised over the holidays.
To protest, students formed the group Perturbed Residents Interested in Changing Expensive Dining (PRICED) to petition against the price hikes.
Last week, PRICED and student representatives met with MFDS Director Mathieu Laperle to dispute the price hikes. They came out of the meeting with the goal of improving communication between MFDS and the student body through the establishment of a new commission.
“In general, I think the meeting went really well,” said Valentine Sergeev, one of the organizers of the petition.
“We talked for a long time and they admitted that they might have made a mistake in the way that they handled the price increase, but they also explained that the actual price hike was out of their control,” he said.
MFDS executive chef Oliver de Volpi explained, “The prices of food are going up recently, that that led us to raising them in the cafeterias.”
“These are things we’ve absorbed up till now,” he said. “But we don’t want to leave next years students with this year’s debt.”
Planning for the commission is still in its infancy. It has have not decided whether student representatives will be chosen through the Inter-Residence Council, or whether new positions will be elected.
Laperle hopes to reach an agreement on the commission before the end of the current fiscal year and implement it next fall.
In the future, MFDS has agreed to keep students more aware of their plans, but highlighted existing communication channels such as the Food and Dining Advisory Committee (FADAC), which includes representatives from SSMU, MCSS, PGSS.
“Our only raison-d’être [here] is for the students,” de Volpi said. “We have to provide nutritious meals and respect certain University regulations, but aside from that everything the students are telling us is what we’re implementing.”
However, de Volpi also noted that students did not make adequate use of the communication channels available to them before creating PRICED.
“They went to a different sort of extreme,” he said. “Students have some responsibility to find out the right channel to vent or express concerns, and we put those out there. They’re not in everybody’s hands, but they’re not more than a touch away.”
Laperle encouraged students to email MFDS, stop by their office, or fill out the Talk2Us forms available online or in the cafeterias.
Students were receptive to MFDS’s attempts to open communication lines.
“They’re doing a good job in comparison to what they are obligated to do,” said Sean Reginio, president of the Inter-Residence Council, “but they aren’t perfect, and they can do better. We want to work together on the same team to improve things.”
Monique Lauzon, MFDS nutritionist, marketing, and quality counsellor, said, “The idea is to have the student’s point of view and voice in terms of the different planning that we do within MFDS.”
Reginio hopes that the commission can help students to understand why the MFDS has made these decisions and to avoid false assumptions in the future.
“The MFDS is doing a good job,” he said. “They’re good people working hard towards making the service as good as possible, and we have to accept that these things happen. We’re looking forward to working towards that sustainable solution for improved transparency.”