The sandwich shelves of SNAX’s fridge remain empty about one month after the Arts Undergraduate Society (AUS) received an email calling into effect a cease-and-desist order on sandwich sales.
According to AUS President Ava Liu, the email, sent on behalf of Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning) Ollivier Dyens, stated that AUS was violating its Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with the University by selling sandwiches at the student-run snack shop. “It has come to our attention that the AUS is selling sandwiches at SNAX in Leacock. Please note that […] AUS is not permitted to sell sandwiches,” read the email.
“We asked to meet with them about our options, and they said, ‘first, comply,’ so we did,” said Liu.
Appendix E of the 2010-15 MOA, which is the document that defines the legal relationship between AUS and McGill, bars SNAX from selling “any kind of processed or prepared foods, such as sandwiches or any kind of hot food.”
“The MOA is a little confusing,” said Liu. “[But] for as far as I can recall, SNAX has been selling sandwiches. It’s not a new development.”
According to Dyens, the sandwich sales were previously unknown to the University. “We acted when it was brought to our attention, as we always do,” Dyens said in an email to The Daily. “The AUS has an obligation, per the agreement they signed with the University, to not sell sandwiches.”
The present MOA, which the current AUS executive has inherited from its predecessors, comes up for renewal this year. “Though I don’t want to speculate, this was called into question right before the negotiation period,” said Liu.
“It just feels… fishy. Could [the administration] really not have noticed [the sandwich sales] this whole time?”
In speaking with The Daily, some SNAX customers hypothesized that the University was trying to use sandwich sales to bargain for a more expensive lease. Sandwiches garner a fair portion of SNAX’s revenue – about 20 per cent – and generate the margin used to pay employees, according to Liu.
“The fact that they’re trying to use rent as a point of contention is possible,” said Liu. “[However], in my understanding, SNAX may have faced rent increases regardless.”
The University denied that the cease-and-desist email was prompted by complaints from competing food outlets on campus.
“This is in no way related to complaints from Première Moisson, or any other food suppliers at the University, including student-operated food outlets or commercial outlets in the [University] Centre,” Mathieu Laperle, Director of Food and Dining Services, told The Daily in an email. “And there’s no foundation to the speculation about this being some kind of bargaining chip.”
Director of Internal Communications Doug Sweet clarified Laperle’s comment, saying it “might leave the impression that there have been complaints from other outlets. There have been no complaints.”
Another speculation is that SNAX, because of its health-conscious fare, might be cornering a market the University hopes to tap. According to Liu, SNAX manager Hasan Nizami was offered a meeting with Food and Dining Services to discuss how it could improve its food offerings. Nizami was unavailable for comment.
“We think there’s an interest for McGill and others in SHHS [Student Housing and Hospitality Services] to consolidate food options on campus,” Liu said. “We’re not interested in helping them develop their suppliers […] market share can always be consolidated by the University.”
“It seems petty, honestly,” said one SNAX customer, who asked to remain anonymous, to The Daily. “This is one of the few places to get sustainable, organic foods.”
“I recognize that correlation does not equal causation,” confided another anonymous SNAX customer, “but the timing of everything is off. It just feels… fishy. Could [the administration] really not have noticed [the sandwich sales] this whole time?”
Student-run spaces wanted
Comment sheets have been posted around SNAX where students can share their opinions about the absence of sandwich sales. Some comments drew parallels between this situation and that of the closure of the Architecture Café, another student-run outlet that the administration shuttered in 2010.
One critic wrote on a comment sheet, “[This] seems like a desperate, last-ditch attempt to get people to buy at Première Moisson. Ugh, McGill, this does not make you look good. Long live Architecture Café.”
Marc-André Levesque, a second-year Education student, was disappointed when he learned of the change. “I detoured to buy here – it’s delicious and affordable. And [it’s] healthy stuff. I don’t understand why this happened.”
U3 Economics student Zach said that the change affects him because “I am a consumer of sandwiches, and more options are always better.”
A common concern raised in the comment sheets is that SNAX is one of the few student-run spaces left on campus. One note on the bulletin board read, “Please bring back affordable, student-run food!”
The importance of maintaining student-run space was also highlighted by Liu. “As it is right now, [SNAX is] entirely managed by a student team,” she said. “What we do is tied to sustainability on campus, a lot of our initiatives are related to that. We also offer options that are not really offered [elsewhere] on campus.”
“We feel that if this chunk of offerings, vegan offerings, were moved to within SHHS, the cost would obviously increase,” she added. “They might be able to have some of these premium products, but they […] would be offered at an expensive price. That’s my opinion as student, that’s why I [advocate] for us to keep things within our control.”