When students returned to school this term, outrage erupted over a sudden change in their food choices: the Tim Horton’s in Redpath had disappeared, replaced by the far pricier Première Moisson. This removal of one of the last cheap food options on campus has opened McGill up to wider criticisms of the growing inaccessibility of food at this university. Widely shared recent coverage in the Montreal Gazette missed the mark entirely, praising the greater range of organic and locally-sourced food, but ignoring students’ need for cheap and accessible food. While the increasing number of healthy options is a good step, the prices of food available on campus are inflated and unaffordable for students already juggling expensive textbooks and tuition fees.
Students have been advocating for cheaper food options for years now; most recently after the administration shut down the student-run Arch Café in 2010, citing financial mismanagement. After four years of stop-and-start planning, SSMU finally opened up a student-run cafe, The Nest, but its prices still leave something to be desired, and its future has been thrown into jeopardy due to budget constraints. Midnight Kitchen provides by-donation vegan lunches to students, but as their funding is limited and they are volunteer-run, they are unable to feed thousands of hungry students.
These few student-run initiatives provide most of the cheaper and more accessible food on campus. Indeed, food accessibility isn’t necessarily limited to price – the inaccessibility of food on campus spans many different dimensions. Aside from high prices, many food outlets at McGill are located in obscure or faraway areas, operate at hours that are not suited to student schedules, and often fail to provide sufficient options for halal, kosher, vegetarian, and vegan diets, as well as for those with food allergies.
Such inaccessibility is closely tied to the outsourcing of food services to private contractors, both in the retail food services and within Food and Dining Services itself, which operates via a private contractor. This comes as no great surprise. McGill has steadily been growing more corporate over the past years, from the huge spike in industry-funded academic research, to constant rhetoric around “branding” the university, to the outsized influence of industry and banking executives in our university governance. Corporatization means less accountability to students, we are able to hold the university and our student societies accountable to some degree, but do not have the same ability to do so with the corporate and retail influences on our campus.
The increasingly high food prices indicate a university administration that gives little attention to accessibility. Students, who make up the bulk of the McGill community, should be given a meaningful say in the food choices on campus. At this point, we are left with the choice between an empty wallet or an empty stomach.
—The McGill Daily Editorial Board