Food for Thought is a new column investigating food services at McGill and documenting the conversations happening on campus around food affordability and accessibility.
McGill Student Housing and Hospitality Services (SHHS) is considering a switch to an All-You-Care-To-Eat (AYCTE) meal plan model in dining halls for students living in residences, to be implemented tentatively at the start of the Fall 2023 semester.
The current model – mandatory for students living in all undergraduate residences apart from Solin Hall – is a declining balance plan. The plan essentially functions as a debit card, with students having to budget their allowance throughout the year. For first year-students in residences, the current plan costs $6,200 in total, which includes the mandatory meal plan, a $975 administrative fee, and $500 OneCard dollars. The Daily spoke with three students regarding details of the AYCTE model, the student consultation process, and whether the plan has potential to mitigate concerns of first-year students regarding food access on campus.
Throughout the past semester, there has been an increase in concerns among students surrounding food prices and quality within residence cafeterias. “Lets Eat McGill,” a campaign with the goal of creating affordable, sustainable, and cooperative food options on campus, arose partly due to the concerns first-year students have about having enough to eat.
At an assembly on food insecurity, hosted by Let’s Eat McGill on March 8, students expressed their frustrations in accessing food in residence cafeterias. Students mentioned struggling to budget in a way that allows for the plan to last the entire year. This is challenging given that the meal plan is only enough for two meals a day due to high cafeteria prices. Students also expressed their disappointment with the limited variety and low-quality options that often do not reflect the high price of items. One student said that food rationing and skipping meals has become the norm for many living in their residence.
Kerry Yang, VP University Affairs at SSMU, has met with SHHS and relayed information from their February 24 meeting to the Daily. Yang believes this switch to an AYCTE meal plan model will be a step in the right direction within residences because it might help with the current plan being either too much or too little money for students. According to Yang’s meeting with SHHS, he told the Daily that SHHS began to review the current model in September and that SHHS is quite serious about the AYCTE switch. Once students are enrolled into the meal plan, they will be able to swipe their card whenever they want to access the cafeteria. Additionally, the model is only dine-in, with hopes to reduce the use of packaging and single-use containers. SHHS also hopes the dine-in model will encourage students to socialize. Those not enrolled in the meal plan, but who may still want to access the cafeterias, will be required to pay an entrance-fee. According to Yang, SHHS are still working out the details of the plan, and weighing different options for students. Further details about the plan will tentatively be posted in May and will be ready to be rolled out in the new academic year.
The Daily spoke to Liam O’Connell, the Food Representative on the Environmental Residence Council, about the prospective ACTYE plan. As the food representative, O’Connell attends University Residence Council (URC) meetings to advocate for improved sustainability practices, increased variety, and affordability in pricing within residence cafeterias. According to O’Connell, members of SHHS started developing this new model in response to students wanting a change from the declining balance plan currently in place. He expressed that SHHS is open to ideas and change; “I just feel like they don’t have these ideas,” he says, “so if people have any ideas, it would be very helpful for them to tell SHHS and talk about it.”
O’Connell says that although he has attended most meetings that took place, “a lot of it has been going on behind the scenes … without students.” Student consultation regarding the plan has been limited to the food representatives on residence council, per O’Connell.
Marcel Bendaly, VP External at RVC, told the Daily that “since we [RVC] are the main cafeteria on campus, I have heard a lot of stories of people foregoing their meals or skipping meals or budgeting to extreme lengths because of the food security issues.” When the Daily asked Bendaly if he believes the AYCTE meal plan will remedy the food issue for first-year students living in residences, Bendaly said in interviews with media outlets regarding food security, McGill’s response has been to refer to the AYCTE model. Bendaly said that the pricing and sustainability details of the plan are still unknown: “they have not defined exactly what it will be like. All they have given us are just the usual marketing slogans that students will have to select from natural or whatever locally sourced, that sort of thing,” said Bendaly.
Bendaly also commented on McGill’s lack of collaboration with student groups: “If McGill does really want to provide us with a good solution to the food insecurity issues, it would start first by working with the student groups, which are tackling the issue and establishing some sort of rapport where we are able to review the plans they have, give our opinion on them and be agents and actually changing that into something that would be good for students.” Such groups may include Midnight Kitchen, Let’s Eat McGill and Macdonald Student-Run Ecological Gardens.