On February 1, a group of students met in the university center for the second official meeting concerning food security on campus. Representatives from SSMU, Divest McGill, Student Nutrition Accessibility Club, ECOLE, and interested individuals gathered around provided vegetarian thalis and pakoras to discuss what actions must be done to address the lack of affordable food options on and around campus.
Their last meeting, which took place on January 25, focused on the importance of institutional memory in considering campus food prices and accessibility prior to the pandemic, addressing the increase in cafeteria food prices, and the need to spread awareness of the ‘food crisis’ at McGill.
Wednesday’s meeting discussed the various food related groups at McGill and the importance of joining forces to increase their impact. Organizations like SNAC, Midnight Kitchen (MK), McGill MealCare, and Le Petit Marché Étudiant, all work towards similar goals: providing affordable, sustainable produce to students, increasing food accessibility on campus, diverting food waste, and closing the gap between food producers and consumers. In 2013, the Concordia Food Coalition was formed, which unites disconnected groups advocating for food accessibility within Concordia University. The coalition oversees the Concordia Farmers Market, and incubates student-led initiatives including the Hive Cafe Co-op. They also oversee research on topics related to campus food sustainability and sovereignty as well as extensive needs assessments, surveys and interviews of Concordia food groups. The meeting members noted the importance of looking to Concordia for inspiration regarding their fight for food justice in Montreal.
Members at the meeting specifically called attention to the need for more research and surveys to get a better sense of the student bodies’ perception on food accessibility. The most recent survey done regarding food and dining services was conducted in Winter 2018, of which the Daily was shared a copy of the results. The purpose of the survey was “to better understand the needs/expectations of the McGill community and identify opportunities for improvement in order to enhance services offered.” Notably, the results show that value for money followed by quality of food and beverages and general cleanliness ranked as the most important aspects of food services on campus, at a rate of 93 per cent, 90 per cent, and 90 per cent, respectively. Specialty beverages and fair trade products ranked as the least important aspects as 46 and 35 per cent of participants respectfully labelled them as ‘not very or not at all important.’ Furthermore, when asked about the performance of certain aspects of food services on campus, 76 per cent of respondents listed ‘value for money’ as ‘fair or poor’, while 6 per cent ranked ‘value for money’ as ‘excellent or very good’. Conversely, customer service and general cleanliness were ranked most frequently as the ‘excellent or very good’ aspects of campus food services at rates of 42 per cent and 40 per cent respectfully. Those present at the meeting called attention to the need for a more recent survey to be done, given the recent rapid inflation affecting food prices and the increased meal plan cost. Attention was also called to the UBC 2022 Academic Experience Survey that indicated that approximately 40 per cent of undergraduate students and 50 per cent of graduate students feel food insecure. The group at the meeting called attention to the need for a similar study at McGill to assess the status of food security of its students.
While representatives of Midnight Kitchen were present at the last meeting, none were present at this one. However, the importance of Midnight Kitchen was highlighted. Midnight Kitchen reopened in September after its closure due to COVID. In 2018 Midnight Kitchen had been forced to reduce its operations since March 2018 due to renovations occurring in the University Centre where their base was held at the time. During the pandemic, MK moved its services to focus as an emergency food bank. Prior to COVID, in 2019, Midnight Kitchen was able to serve about 300 meals weekly for pickup, and before 2019, they were serving up to 1,000 meals weekly. Now, that number has reduced to 50 meals per week due to budgetary issues, according to members at Wednesday’s meeting. Beyond its biweekly free vegan lunch offerings, MK provides free catering services for events that align with its political mandate, operates a garden seasonally, and hosts workshops and lectures relating to food preparation and security. Similarly, Concordia’s People’s Potato, a collectively-run soup kitchen offering vegan meals to students and community members, was noted.
The last issue on the agenda for the meeting concerned the high cafeteria prices. Members at the meeting placed part of the blame for high prices on the privatization of dining services on campus. Most recently, in 2014, the private company Compass became a provider for food services at McGill. While Concordia’s food services are provided by Aramark, which served McGill until 2014, the university maintains multiple student-run food cooperatives including the Hive and Reggies.
The next food security meeting will take place in person and online on Wednesday, February 8, the location will be determined. Follow @ssmu_ea on instagram for updates.