Students organizing a two-day boycott of McGill’s corporate-run cafeterias next week are already running into institutional hurdles.
Boycott organizers serving a Midnight Kitchen lunch outside the Redpath Library yesterday faced off with McGill Security, who demanded to see a permit for the public gathering. When the students did not produce it, Security recorded one participant’s name and student number.
“[Boycott organizers] are opposed to having to have a permit to assemble. That’s why we haven’t gotten the permit before. As students, we should be able to assemble in public spaces on campus,” said Bridget Simpson, a Midnight Kitchen cooperative member.
McGill’s Planning and Institutional Analysis Office requires that students fill out an application for outdoor campus events, which can take several days to process.
The boycott is scheduled for next Thursday and Friday, when the Food Services Committee of the GrassRoots Association for Student Power (GRASPé) and Midnight Kitchen will dole out free vegan food to protest the prevalence of corporate food service providers on campus. The committee has not secured permits to serve food outside.
Over the past several years, McGill has phased out student-run food initiatives on campus and contracted out food services to corporate providers, with Chartwells College & University Dining Services the most widespread example.
Derek Lappano, a GRASPé organizer, wasn’t convinced that the boycott would kick Chartwells off campus. But he was optimistic that next week’s actions would promote the student-run initiatives on campus that have survived despite the corporatization of McGill’s food services, like Midnight Kitchen.
“I think people prefer to go to student-run food services, but sometimes they don’t know about the options available to them. We want to let them know here’s an alternative,” he said.
The committee was inspired by the 2004 boycott of corporate-run cafeterias, organized by the Coalition for Action on Food Services (CAFS) against McGill granting a single company a monopoly contract.
Without the possibility of an exclusivity contract, boycott organizer Maria Forti was not sure participation in next week’s actions could match the turnout four years ago.
“Unless you’re really involved, you might not know about what’s happening. This time, there’s not a huge rallying point,” she said.
The Food Services Committee tried to raise awareness about the boycott through workshops held this week and next week.
On Tuesday, roughly 20 people discussed anti-capitalist environmentalism and food in a Shatner conference room. Representatives from Food Not Bombs shared tips on dumpster-diving and Ambrose Kirby of Le Frigo Vert critiqued the “sustainable business” model.
“We wanted to get people talking about food in a radical way,” Forti said. “We wanted to put it in a context and let people know that this isn’t just about food. There are corporations everywhere – even in our bathrooms.”
Forti stressed that the boycott will not target corporate cafeteria workers, and explained that the Food Services Committee is in the process of drafting a letter to workers introducing the boycott.
“We don’t have a problem with the workers…. If they have a problem, they can contact us,” she said.