Commentary  Alternative is more than an aesthetic

The case for student-run food services

The ongoing campaign for honest food at McGill scored a big victory last week when Midnight Kitchen was allowed to re-open. As a volunteer at The Rabbit Hole Cafe on Aylmer, another by-donation eatery, I see the benefits of a collective approach to student eating firsthand, and there are many. Primarily, collectives help to alleviate student poverty. In addition to our Friday lunches, we operate the Food for Thought pantry, a place where students can take free non-perishables to restock their cupboards for the week ahead. While poverty may not be very visible on campus, between tuition, housing, and everything else it can be hard for many McGill students to make ends meet. For them, alternatives are more than an aesthetic, and having one is all but crucial – as food prices at McGill continue to rise, student collectives are one of the best ways for students to eat within their means.
A few weeks ago, a friend told me that while on exchange in Sweden, she was able to buy a year’s subscription to a student-run food service of her choice, where she ate incredibly well for a fraction of the cost of a McGill meal plan. Within this system, Swedish students were able to gain experience in running a sophisticated service operation, able to hire other students, and able to control what kinds of ingredients went into their meals.
Another benefit of this arrangement is that the relationship between the consumer and the supplier is that of student to student, not student to university, or student to university to third-party food enterprise.
But as every young socialist is well aware, Canada isn’t Sweden. And I have no problem with there being a Tim Horton’s in the Redpath cafeteria. What I dislike, however, is the fact that the water fountains in that same cafeteria were broken for weeks while the vending machines are always stocked with Dasani. But I digress. The point is, we don’t have to change everything, but a shift in proportions would be nice. If we rely on each other more for our basic needs, we will be more connected as a campus. After all, eating has traditionally been a community affair.
And because McGill is a community, I would like to acknowledge the contributions of the administration, faculty, and their families, who donate non-perishables to our pantry every December. Even more indispensable is the involvement of Chef Jancide and company at RVC, who supply the Rabbit Hole with ingredients and expertise. Examples such as these are encouraging – they suggest that parts of the collective message might be resonating with parts of the bigger institution. McGill might one day be open to giving students a more comprehensive food services system, despite what we may have seen in the past.
Food is political, social, and normal – a daily need and a huge part of our overall wellbeing. McGill could benefit from more outlets that provide a human approach to cooking and eating. In the meantime, we’ll continue serving food as it’s meant to be: cooked amongst friends, and shared indiscriminately between those who have a donation to give and those who don’t.

Jane Gatensby is a U0 Arts student. She can be reached at