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Hyde Park: Boycott corporate cafeterias

Today and tomorrow, students will boycott McGill’s corporate-run cafeterias. It’s widely known that food services at McGill are inadequate. In The Globe and Mail’s 2007 survey of undergrads, students gave McGill a C- in overall quality of food services. Clearly, McGill’s predominantly corporate food services have failed to meet the dietary needs of its diverse community. And yet, as students are struggling to satiate themselves in a healthy, ethical, and sustainable manner, McGill has responded by tightening its grip on food services.

In an interview with The Daily, Principal Heather Munroe-Blum stated that the issue of food services is “up for discussion.” While Munroe-Blum’s point sounds forward-thinking, it is moot because the McGill administration is structured in order to rob students of any negotiation bargaining power. Town Halls are currently the only accessible forum for discussion, but these are places for empty rhetoric, not student-administration compromise.

For students to get what they need, their best option is to start up food services themselves. For example, Midnight Kitchen – which is entirely student-run – serves affordable vegan meals every day, and the Architecture Café (once autonomous, but now under the umbrella of McGill Ancillary Services) provides a creative atmosphere and relatively affordable local food options. Yet despite their ability, students and their operations are continually under threat by a power-hungry administration that views food services as an opportunity for profit, rather than as an essential service.

So, where do we go from here? Food services at McGill need to change, and for that to happen, students must take collective action. In 2004, the Coalition for Action on Food Services (CAFS) orchestrated a successful three-day, campus-wide boycott against possible on-campus cafeteria monopolization. Thanks in part to the boycott, student-run food services on campus are still “allowed” to operate and no company holds a monopoly on campus cafeterias.

While boycotting our campus’s corporate food services on a day-to-day basis is effective in the short term, it doesn’t change the system: the structure in place is designed to to shove the values and norms of capitalism down our throats. If we want to see meaningful change, we must rally together and make concrete demands. The Corporate Food Boycott, which starts today and runs through tomorrow, is more than just a demonstration, it’s also a meeting ground where students can voice their demands, and stir up support for an alternative student-run model.

The Food Services Committee of the Grassroots Association for Student Power (GRASPé) and Midnight Kitchen advocates student-autonomy, environmental sustainability and workers’ rights. We believe that students, faculty and workers have the right to determine how their food services are designed, managed and consumed; to sustainably-produced, nutritious foods; and to a fair and equitable work place. History shows that corporations and big businesses are unable to foster these rights. Corporate-run food services are not the only option. Take action and join our pickets outside Chartwells cafeterias on campus at 1 p.m. today and 12:30 p.m. tomorrow. Free food will be available. Bring your friends and your appetite; we’ll provide lunch until justice is served.

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