News  Midnight Kitchen closed indefinitely

Donation-based collective failed to renew provincial certification, blames SSMU for lack of warning

Midnight Kitchen, the McGill collective that provides vegan lunches by donation every weekday, was informed Tuesday that it would have to stop serving food because the collective’s certification under the Ministère de l’Agriculture, des Pêcheries et de l’Alimentation du Québec, was no longer valid under changed laws.
Midnight Kitchen (MK) administrator Emily Zheng said that the collective “only just came under the permit late last year.”

“Before that, we existed in this space where, because there aren’t any laws for groups like us, nobody really told us that we needed a permit. Last April was when we were told that we would be a liability if we don’t apply for this permit,” she said.

SSMU Vice President, Clubs and Services Anushay Khan said that temporarily closing the kitchen is necessary until the collective acquires a new permit.

“MK could be fined up to $2,000 per day,” Khan said, adding that “SSMU could cover the costs for the fine – but if we were fined, then reapplying for a permit would be even harder.”

“We were recently informed that we had to do [the certification] every single year,” said Khan, citing an inspector’s visit from February 2010, when it was established that ten per cent of the group would have to undergo hygiene and food and safety training.

“At that point, that was just one person, but MK’s membership has increased, which means that more people need to be trained, said Khan.

Khan explained that the permit expired January 21, and claims that she emailed MK about renewal in December, and followed up with a second reminder email upon the reopening of school in January.

“There was no progress on the issue because of exams and because it was the beginning of the semester, so it’s understandable, and then they had about two weeks between then and [January] 21 to get a new permit, but that didn’t happen,” she said.
Collective members, however, claim that they never received the first email.

“SSMU says that they sent us an email about it on the 12th of December,” said MK member Alex Briggs. “But we never received that one – we’ve gone through the backlogs and that’s not there. So we found out about it as soon as we got back to school. On that day there was one spot left for the February certification test, but we’re a collective…we had to talk about it, and then that one was gone. And now the next one is in March.”

Representatives from MK also objected to the lack of notice they received about having to close operations.

“The first time that [SSMU] came to the kitchen to notify us was yesterday [January 25],” said Zheng. “There was a lot of miscommunication, but also the logistics of organizing as a collective – getting everybody trained and finding a way to pay for it – would have taken a really long time. So we really needed that two-month buffer, but we just didn’t know in time.”

Khan has said that MK would need to cover any training costs.

In the meantime, the collective is looking for ways to keep operating. One potential solution is to make the Midnight Kitchen a club operating in the same way as the SSMU Mini Courses.

“People will have to sign a waiver and their signature will make them a part of the Midnight Kitchen Club,” Briggs explained. “So that way we won’t be serving food to anyone external, we’ll be making it for ourselves. We’ll need to check on the legality of that, but the Mini Courses don’t have a permit, and they cook food in the kitchen for themselves. If that doesn’t work, our second loophole is that we’re going to try to get everyone involved in some part of the process – cooking  cleaning, setting up, or something.”

However, Khan pointed out that since most of the Midnight Kitchen’s income is from student fees, that may not be an option.

“We don’t give clubs fees – fees are for student services,” she said. “So there is a bit of a logistical problem with that, but…I met with MK twice today, we are going to see what we can to, and I will try my best to get it going as soon as possible.”

Organic Campus, a student service that operates a weekly local organic food stand, was also closed indefinitely on Wednesday. Organic Campus acquired all the necessary certification, with ten per cent of their membership undergoing hygiene and food and safety training, but the paperwork was not processed in time for them to get certified. While they will likely get re-certified before MK, they will also be closed for the foreseeable future.

With files from Rana Encol