Catering to Concordia’s Needs

Spoiler: We’re Doing it Wrong

Graphic Graeme Shorten Adams

If you’re still blissfully unaware or unbothered by the lack of food options at Concordia, you’ve either not spent much time at the Loyola campus or you are a little too fond of overpriced and uninspiring meals.

For students who don’t take classes at Concordia’s less-popular campus or didn’t spend their first year in residence, it might be difficult to understand the monopoly that Chartwells has on the university.

But this problem is by no means a new one. Chartwells and their exclusive contract with the university have had a stronghold on on-campus food options at Concordia since 2002, when previous food provider Sodehxo-Marriott gave 37 students food poisoning, prompting Concordia to sever their contract with the company.

Chartwells provides food for over 200 schools in North America and is a subsidiary of Compass Group, the UK-based company that is also, ironically, the largest supplier of prison food worldwide.

If you’re a student living in residence at Concordia, you’re forced to subscribe to a meal plan that rings in at approximately $4,000 a year. Unlike many universities, Concordia’s meal plan is not an option when living in residence—it’s a requirement.

Also unlike many universities, only a single Concordia residence, Jesuit, has a kitchen where students can cook with anything more elaborate than a microwave—provided they adhere to an extensive list of rules that, among other things, require them to be supervised at all times.

First-year students are told of the convenience and the time-saving aspects of the meal plan, but the school leaves out any in-depth description of what exactly $4,000 will get you.
Chartwells is a significantly different company on paper than it is in reality. Yes, there are always vegetarian and occasionally vegan options, but don’t expect anything more than bizarre approximations of your favourite dishes.

Not to mention that the food might not be what you think: Due to veggie options sharing the same grill with meat, and utensils being shared between dishes, there are legitimate concerns about allergens or vegetarian meals that aren’t so vegetarian after all.

Yes, there is the convenience of all-you-can-eat, but don’t even try to take any food out of the cafeteria in an attempt to milk all you can out of your $4,000 meal plan.

And breakfast? You’re out of luck getting anything warm if you’re hungry or have class before noon—the cafeteria doesn’t even open until 11:30 a.m.

With the Chartwells contract expiring in 2015, Concordia needs to start looking at alternative options now. These can’t be far-fetched ideals, but actual concrete solutions to a problem that has been facing the university and tarnishing student life for too long.

Follow the Leader

Looking at other universities is an excellent place to start. Although it would be great to start a program from scratch catering specifically to what Concordia students want, it’s far more reasonable to look at other success stories from universities sharing similar demographics.

Universities like Waterloo and Guelph have some of the best food options for students in Canada. Instead of a food plan that focuses on one or two dining halls, their services offer a variety of options throughout several smaller cafeterias.

Instead of a slim assortment of places where students can use their meal plan points, other schools have many different corporations in competition, from full vegan cafés to KFC.
What’s more, meal plans at other schools are the same price, if not cheaper than at Concordia.

Not to mention that right now, choices for Concordia students with any kind of food restrictions, from allergies to religion to plain old preference, are extremely limited.

Chartwells still advertises “healthy dining standards” to prospective Concordia students, but in reality that means one “non-fried” fish option a week, and steamed vegetables with “little” added sugar and fat.

While the likes of Waterloo can boast about full vegetarian kitchens, chefs that will take student requests and a variety of cafeterias all offering diverse options depending on your taste, the most Concordia can brag about is its superlative amount of Tim Hortons.

Wanted: Bigger Plan

This year’s incoming team of Concordia Student Union executives hopes to have Loyola’s student-run Hive café up and running by September.

Their idea is to start small, beginning by selling drip coffee and pastries, and then work on expanding into a larger business, said incoming VP Sustainability Benjamin Prunty at a debate before the CSYou slate was elected.

If they really want to meaningfully improve Concordia’s food services, they need a bigger plan.

Transitioning into an entirely sustainable system from one of corporate stronghold is not feasible in one year. We need to employ design, engineering, finance and business students to help devise a plan to bring Concordia out of the world of cafeteria domination.

As a university, we’re behind the times. This isn’t a pipe dream, there are dozens of universities doing food service right—and it’s frankly embarrassing that we haven’t caught up.