CFC Seeks Student Involvement
Student Group Proposes Alternative Food Model to Industrial Food Service Providers
The Concordia Food Coalition held its first public meeting with students on Thursday at the Loyola campus’ The Hive Café as part of the week-long Bite Me! workshop series showcasing green initiatives and exploring food services at the university.
“I want to get involved in changing our industrialized food system, but I don’t know how to go about it,” said graduate student Sara Melvin upon entering the café on Thursday.
It seemed she was in the right place. CFC member and Concordia Student Union VP Sustainability Ben Prunty explained to students the gamut of food services models, from contracted to self-operated, at different universities across the country. The interactive presentation also saw students brainstorm over their ideal campus food scenario.
Prunty also revealed for the first time some of the group’s ambitions to students at large: a greenhouse on top of Loyola’s SC Building, helping the fee-levy group Concordia Greenhouse build their City Farm School into a leader in urban agriculture, and a land trust project that would secure land for Concordia to grow its own food.
“Right now Concordia’s food system is run by large companies like Chartwells, Tim Hortons, Subway and JavaU,” CFC outreach coordinator Gabriel Velasco said in an interview last Wednesday.
“Alternately, the Coalition encourages student-run initiatives that are co-ops and non-profits. We also want local, organic and inexpensive food on campus.”
The coalition formed last winter when ecologically minded members of student organizations like the People’s Potato, Le Frigo Vert and the Concordia Greenhouse realised that the university’s contract with food provider Chartwells was ending in 2015.
Velasco says they saw an opportunity to reinvent the university’s food system.
“We want something better than Chartwells,” he said.
According to Velasco and Prunty, the Coalition wants to ensure that student-run healthy options feature in the university’s new food services contract, which will be awarded in May 2015.
They say they hope to see the JavaU franchise in the Hall Building replaced with a student-run coffee shop. The space, along with the adjacent Reggie’s bar, is owned by the CSU.
In its attempt to join Concordia’s food services, the coalition is up against big players like Aramark, Chartwells and Laliberté. But since it’s not an officially recognized service provider, the coalition plans to affiliate itself with a human-centred food organization like Santropol Roulant to gain a competitive edge, according to Velasco.
Concordia professor Satoshi Ikeda, who specializes in sustainability issues, was also at Thursday’s meeting.
“Change can only come from the students,” he said. “I want students to be imaginative and dream up a new system. You can have fun, as students, engaging in these activities.”
Ikeda, who spoke at the event, says he imagines a Concordia with green roofs on every building, and co-ops providing learning spaces for students to gain experience in their fields of study.
He says he even wants an artisanal brewery with batched brews made from student-grown hops at Concordia, or a canning and preserves co-op, stocked with produce from the planned Land Trust Project.
Some of the Coalition’s dreams are already becoming a reality. The CSU has allocated funds to renovate The Hive Café, which Prunty and Velasco say will open by the end of the year as a student-run non-profit cooperative with the mandate of selling healthy and local options.
Though the CSU is still reviewing The Hive’s business plan, it has unanimously approved the future co-op’s founding, according to Prunty.
Currently, the coalition is gathering signatures on a petition requesting an increased fee levy per credit from students.
A referendum will address the question in November’s undergraduate by-elections. For next semester, the coalition is planning a conference on campus greenhouses to get that project rolling.
But in the past couple of weeks, Concordia’s administration has been calling on students too. Concordia Internal Communications sent out emails inviting students to discussions being held by Concordia Food Services—currently affiliated with Chartwells—and an online survey asked students to indicate their food preferences.
Meanwhile, the coalition is openly proposing a grassroots alternative to a contracted food provider that encourages active student participation not only in decision-making, but also in implementing a sustainable food system, by and for the students.
“Many students want this, so we’re trying to find an outlet to help them get involved,” Velasco told The Link. “Ideally, Concordia’s food system would be run so that no profit is made from feeding students on campus.”