Last December, McGill consolidated its self-run Upper Residence dining services and dining services at New Rez and Carrefour Sherbrooke under the umbrella of McGill Food and Dining. This unification involved an overhaul of the Upper Residence dining scheme: where previously students received a full meal for a fixed price, now they pay for each item individually from a declining balance of around $1,900 a semester.
From the beginning, students and staff have complained about the new system. High prices leave students worried they’ll run out of money – forcing them to choose between eating what’s good for them and what they can afford. Gone are the days of unlimited salad, milk, and coffee. Even something as simple as an apple now costs $1.05.
Food and Dining has already lowered some of its prices in the Upper Rez cafeterias following student complaints, but this move doesn’t address the fundamental problems with residence dining. For starters, you can pay less for two to three mediocre food options, or pay more for a slightly wider variety provided by a union-busting company – Chartwells, and whose parent company Compass Group has been plagued by accusations of corruption from the United Nations mission in Liberia to the Tar Sands in Alberta.
Food services have been a rallying point for student activists at McGill for the last decade. Beginning in 1999 when McGill considered an 11-year exclusivity contract with Coca-Cola (the one battle students and faculty successfully fought), students have been steadily losing ground as campus cafeterias are contracted to corporations with questionable concern for student welfare, the environment, or their employees.
Though locally-sourced meals will soon be available once a week in rez, more could be done to provide organic and free-range products. Students with special dietary concerns are left by the wayside in the current system – though they pay as much for meal plans as everyone else. “Vegetarian” meals are often little more than beans and rice; vegan and kosher options are offered only at one residence each; and halal meals are nowhere to be found.
But dining services don’t have to be run this way. At the University of Guelph, in Ontario, in-season produce is bought from co-ops, and there’s a greater variety of meals available each day for those with religious and dietary concerns. The vegan-friendly food offerings at the University of Victoria, the religiously-sensitive options at University of Waterloo, and even the food services provided by Lola Rosa for McGill’s Diocesian and Presbyterian College residences in their first year of existence all point to alternative ways of delivering nutritious and sustainable nourishment to students.
Food and Dining has already lowered prices thanks to student and staff mobilization, and we hope that trend continues. The Daily encourages the Residence Councils, directors, floor fellows, dons, and staff to condemn the changes in Upper Residence and to propose positive alternatives. And with SSMU Council convening today for the first time this year, we hope VP University Rebecca Dooley will make student voices heard.
In the meantime, bombard the food and dining comment boxes and the Food and Dining web site (mcgill.ca/foodservices) with demands for lower prices in Upper Rez, sustainable food sourcing, and more accommodating meals for students.