Let us eat cake!

Arch Café mobilization will help us get more back than just food

Since when is filling your belly a want, rather than a need? Food is not only necessary to humans for survival, but is also essential for higher brain functions. McGill students, as both humans and people using those upper-level functions, need food. The contractor Aramark’s near-monopoly on campus food is a threat to the needs of McGill students. All of us.

Exclusivity, or monopoly, allows the food providers to lower food quality while raising prices: this threatens not only students’ wallets but their bodies and minds. The issue of the Architecture Café closure is therefore not an issue of desire for luxurious brownies and coffee, but of a real need for an autonomous service offering affordable and nutritious food.

Daniel Meltzer wrote to The Daily last week (“Should we eat cake?” Commentary, October 6) that there is “a world of taste for under $10…within walking distance of any class.” First, there are not that many options close enough to McGill for students to pass by them quickly between classes, and the ones that do exist are mostly corporately-run.

But, second, why shouldn’t our campus be a reflection of its students, rather than dictated from the top down? Why go somewhere else when we could have an amazing and student-affirming option right here? Why take the lazy way out? Food should be community, not commodity.

The story goes that when Marie Antoinette was told that the people were starving for their daily bread she responded, “Let them eat cake!” We echo this call because by choosing overpriced and nutritionally-poor Aramark food over the sustainable and democratic Architecture Café, Deputy Provost Morton Mendelson might as well be saying the same phrase to us. Tuition going up? Students want a more democratic say on what they eat on campus? Then let them eat overpriced, mass-produced “cake” from Aramark, a multi-national company that supports the elite, while feeding the military and encouraging large-scale agriculture using pesticide! Let the administration take that food and try to stomach it. We want our own food – our daily life and “bread” – back.

Yet, wouldn’t students have held protests earlier if this issue were really so important? They already have. In 2000 and in 2007, there were student protests regarding exclusivity contracts with Coca-Cola and the first Arch Café closure, respectively. Student turnover combined with apathy and busyness left students with little time to think about the slow, but steady, corporatization of campus life.

The Architecture Café rally and its aftermath is a great starting point for rekindling the student movement at McGill. It addresses the gradual closure of student food places on campus, as well as the non-existent budgetary reasons for doing so. If the Café – financially sustainable for over ten years – were really losing so much money, why did the administration take it over in the the first place? Student groups like the ASA in conjunction with EUS have submitted business proposals to reopen the Café, but the administration is unwilling to even discuss the matter. The issue is more ideological than financial, and the September 22 rally served to open the discussion on the nature of student input in campus affairs in general, including tuition increases.

Though the protest was slightly disorganized and last minute, it had enthusiasm – something rarely seen on campus these days. Students have been mobilizing ever since in an ad hoc group called Mobilization McGill, and, with support from SSMU, have organized a boycott of Aramark food providers from Monday, October 18 through Wednesday, October 20. Mobilization McGill meets Mondays at 7 p.m. in the Shatner Cafeteria. All are welcome and invited!

Carol Fraser is a U3 German and East Asian Studies student. She’s also a member of Midnight Kitchen and Mobilization McGill. You can write to her at carol.e.fraser@gmail.com.