And the dish ran away with the spoon

The Plate Club shut operations this fall after concerns about sanitation and labour

Students lunching in Shatner these days are pining for the return of the Plate Club, a free lunchtime plate distribution service that provided hungry caf-goers looking to reduce their environmental guilt with free reusable dishes, cutlery, and cups.

The Plate Club, formed in February 2007 as a Quebec Public Interest Research Group (QPRIG) and Greening McGill initiative, originally supplied dishes to groups requesting their services for events. Last year the Club upgraded to a 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. weekday lunch service on the second floor of the SSMU building for students eating at Tiki Ming, Franx Supreme, Cultures, and Midnight Kitchen.

According to Tim Dowling, Interim Plate Club Liaison to SSMU, the Club stopped dish distribution for logistical concerns – sanitation concerns about the bins used for washing dishes, a shortage of members to fill shifts, and the time and labour-intensive nature of washing dishes – necessitating the Plate Club to rethink their operations.

“We need to have a structure that’s sustainable,” he said.

Sebastian Ronderos-Morgan, U2 Political Science and Economics and representative to the SSMU Environmental Committee, was surprised and disappointed when the Club’s lunchtime table was missing this semester.

“It’s a fantastic service that impacts our environmental footprint,” Ronderos-Morgan said. “[The cafeteria restaurants] don’t give out reusable plates, so…I use paper plates when I eat there. When I eat at Midnight Kitchen, I have no choice but to beg and grovel for Tupperware.”

Despite their absence in Shatner, Dowling assured the Plate Club is still active, providing clubs and campus groups with dishes for their events by request. During a busy week, Dowling said the Club can work up to five events.

Dowling plans to submit a research stipend proposal to the Clubs and Services Committee of SSMU next week that would explore options for a more centralized plate operation run by SSMU, more involvement from the McGill Sustainability Office, or for the Plate Club to gain SSMU service status.

“We are actively looking at options for what plate services in SSMU should look like,” Dowling said.

Samantha Cook, SSMU VP Clubs & Services, was unaware that the Club wouldn’t be dishing out lunch before the semester started. She mentioned the possibility of creating a work-study position next year to have a student operate the industrial dishwasher that SSMU installed this summer.

The work-study application deadline has already passed for the 2008-2009 academic year.

“In the meantime, I need to have more conversations with the Plate Club and the SSMU exec before we go forward with anything,” Cook said.

Cook explained that the Plate Club members applied for service status last April, but withdrew the application after discussions with Marcelle Kosman, the former VP Clubs & Services. According to Cook, Kosman was concerned that the transition from a club to a service was moving too quickly.

“There should be more time before a club becomes a service. Granting [the Plate Club] such high status without being sure it could self-perpetuate would be risky,” Cook said.

SSMU currently has 20 services, all of which are institutionalized under SSMU’s services by-laws and have a mandate to service the entire undergraduate student body. According to Cook, services hold increased responsibilities to the students and to SSMU – ensuring regular availability to undergrads and conforming to SSMU’s accounting procedures.

In spite of the unanswered questions that plague the Plate Club’s future, Dowling predicted the Plate Club will return to its table on the second floor in the future – though for the moment it will only supply events.

According to Dowling’s latest tally, the Plate Club has approximately 325 plates, 75 cups, 96 wine goblets, but not enough cutlery.

“There’s a donation box in the SSMU office,” he added.