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An Interview with Midnight Kitchen

Collective will operate with a larger budget this year

Midnight Kitchen, a worker and volunteer-run collective, works to combat food insecurity through the provision of food on McGill’s downtown campus and beyond. Last fall, Midnight Kitchen held its first free lunch service on campus since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

A year later, the Daily met with Delali, the general coordinator of Midnight Kitchen, to discuss the service, the progress they have made in the past year, and their plans for this year. 

The McGill Daily (MD): Could you briefly explain what your association does? What are your main activities and goals? 

Delali: Briefly, our goal is to provide alternative food options on campus. One of our biggest programs is our free lunch program that we do on Thursdays at 1:00 p.m. in the ballroom of [the University Centre]. Our goal is to serve approximately 150 meals this year at each service. But we do a lot of different things. 

MD: Could you explain what an “alternative food option” is?

Delali: Typical food options are grocery stores, restaurants, and stuff like that. And usually there’s a big price tag attached to those things, especially in recent years. Prices keep going up, but it’s not accessible to everyone. Food is a necessity. There was a point where people could access food by growing it themselves or trading for it, but as things have progressed, [this has] become less of an option, or it’s a lot harder for people in the city to grow all of their own food to provide for their family.  So Midnight Kitchen just adds another option that doesn’t require money. 

MD:  Do you feel like the food situation on campus has worsened in recent years, with the inflation of food prices and COVID-19?

Delali: For sure. I feel like even before COVID, prices for food on campus were  pretty steep for a student coming to campus every day. If you weren’t making all of your own meals and you had to buy lunch every day between classes, often people choose whatever is around, and what’s around is usually quite pricey. 

MD:  Have you seen an increase in student demand? 

Delali: Absolutely. A lot of mobilization came from frustration with the current food situation on campus. It’s great that people love our service and use it, but we’re not going to solve the issue as one service. But I feel like there have been new things popping up that are trying to offer alternatives, such as the grocery store in [the University Centre] with cheaper lunches.

MD: How has McGill responded to your actions? Has there been an increase in support? 

Delali: No, we’ve never had support from McGill, and there’s not been an increase. Since we’re a student service, and most of our interactions are with SSMU, we don’t really have a relationship with the administration.

MD: Would you like McGill to get involved and help? 

Delali: Of course, we would love that. 

MD: Can you discuss the fee increase that happened last year? How has that helped? What were the reactions? 

Delali: We’re really happy about the fee increase. Our biggest goal was just to expand our food budget so that we could not only cook with donated food that we get through Moisson Montreal – which is a food organization that distributes food that would have otherwise been thrown out. We do get a lot of free food through them, but it’s also nice to have the option of buying more fresh stuff to cook while keeping an inventory of options of things to cook for students. So in order to make sure that we can still provide all the same services and more, the increase has been really helpful. 

MD: Have you been receiving a lot of student support? 

Delali: Yes, but we always get lots of student support, which is always very heartwarming. There’s always a lot of students who are interested in volunteering with us and helping to cook. Honestly, I wish our kitchen was bigger so we could have more people in the kitchen helping us cook. 

MD: How do these volunteer training sessions work? 

Delali: Usually we will have people come to a training session, happening next week, and then also fill out a little form just so we know that they’re coming. Then, we have a big sheet with the shift times and stuff like that. Usually, shifts are two hours. And anybody is welcome to come – you don’t have to have experience cooking at all. Just an interest, curiosity, and [willingness] to help out in any way.

The Midnight Kitchen Collective will be hosting its volunteer orientation on Monday, September 18, from 5:00–6:00 p.m. at the University Centre (Room 304) and on Tuesday, September 19, from 5:00–6:00 p.m. at the University Centre (Room 302/304). To register for an orientation session, fill out the form on Midnight Kitchen’s website.

The free packaged meal service schedule can also be found on the Midnight Kitchen website. The next free meal service will be held on September 21 at 1:00 p.m. on the third floor of the University Centre. The food provided is plant-based and nut-free, and Midnight Kitchen asks that participants bring a reusable container and utensils.