Students living in McGill’s residences returned from winter break to find that mandatory meal prices had risen without prior notification. Now some, under the banner of Perturbed Residents Interested in Changing Expensive Dining (PRICED), have launched a petition drive to combat the price hikes. According to Valentine Sergeev, one of the petition’s organizers, around 500 hundred students had signed their names within the first 24 hours.
McGill Food and Dining Services (MFDS) currently offer one of the most expensive university meal plan options in the country, with the average plan costing $4,050. Comparable plans at Ryerson University and the University of Ottawa, for example, cost $2,900 and $1,950 respectively.
MFDS, the organization responsible for the price increases, has also implemented a $1,200 compulsory “administration charge” on top of the existing cost of the meal plan. On January 14, MFDS posted a memorandum in their dining halls offering an explanation for the inflation, namely “The seasonal price increases of fresh fruits and vegetables. … More importantly, however, the significant increase in the market prices of basic food staples.” Examples given include the rising cost of broccoli from $11.00 per case to $23.95 per case and coffee rising between eight and twelve per cent.
The unexpected change led a to group of students in Upper Rez creating PRICED. Led by Sergeev of McConnell Hall, the group aims to achieve increased communication between MFDS and students, and to have a permanent student on the MFDS board.
The petition seeks clarification of the $1,200 compulsory administration charge, the lack of prices on products, as well as failure to adhere to posted business hours.
The building resentment and frustration toward MFDS stems from what students have called a lack of student participation in decision making with respect to the inflexible mandatory meal plans and a lack of communication. The PRICED petition argues that “given that residents are financially locked into their service plans, and are thus unable to express their concerns by simply taking their business elsewhere, it is incumbent upon MFDS to exhibit greater respect and openness in their dealing with the students of residence.”
The current “Regular Meal Plan” option offered by MFDS costs residents $5,250. This includes the $1,200 “administrative charge,” with the remaining $4,050 (or 77 per cent of total) prescribed as “food dollars.” Current numbers provided by PRICED show that if a student were to purchase three hot meals a day with no beverages, the daily total would be $19.93. If the semester lasts 120 days, the semester total will come to $2,391.60, $366 more than the funds available on the plan.
Students have also argued that the price increases will result in a less nutritious diet, as affording an additional apple or box of milk per day may realistically be out of reach.
Last Friday, MFDS invited students and staff at McGill to participate in a survey to improve its services. In a recent meeting with PRICED, MFDS reportedly acknowledged the unfair price increase and intends on formally recognizing this in a letter to students, according to a member of PRICED who attended the meeting. They also intend on working jointly with PRICED to better disclose finances, which will be made available to students. They also noted that as a business, their goal is to break even.
Mathieu Laperle, the director of MFDS, did not respond to requests for comment.