Editorial: Ending the Reign of Chart-Hell

graphic Madeleine Gendreau

With Chartwells’ contract up for negotiation in 2015, Concordia’s community has the chance to rethink its options in terms of food services.

Chartwells is a food service management company that has held an exclusive contract with Concordia since 2002. It also happens to be a subsidiary of Compass Group, the multinational known for being a food service provider for prisons, offshore oil platforms, and schools worldwide and reported an income of approximately $10.5 billion CAD in 2013.

First-year students who live in residence are required to purchase a Chartwells meal plan. The cost of that plan is exorbitant, at $1,975 per semester—more than a semester of tuition fees for a Quebec resident taking the maximum amount of credits allowed.

Concordia has a duty to serve a diverse and multicultural student body, and Chartwells has failed to fit the needs of students with certain dietary restrictions.

Vegans, as well as students with gluten or lactose intolerance, often have difficulty finding any option that complies with their diet.

When first-year biology student Anisa Ben-Saud, who lives in Loyola’s residence, showed up for breakfast one day, she encountered that difficulty firsthand.

“I was awake really early, and I went there, and they didn’t have anything ready,” she said. “[An employee] was like, ‘You can have the baked goods and stuff,’ and I said, ‘I can’t.’ ‘Well, you can have yogurt.’ I can’t. That’s inconvenient if you can’t give me something.”

A company making billions in profit every year should be able to provide options for students with common allergies.

Not only is the meal plan expensive and restrictive, but the food served by Chartwells isn’t particulary healthy, neither for student’s bodies nor their futures.

Although Chartwells claims to make efforts to provide healthy, sustainable meals to students, we doubt this statement is accurate. The company gets massive rebates from major food corporations including Kellogg’s and Coca-Cola and thus has a financial motivation to push their products.

It goes without saying that these industrial food giants are not the best example of local, organic or sustainable choices.

The Concordia Food Coalition is working to get a maximum of eight local businesses to form a single bid to replace Chartwells next year. This bid would be beneficial for both students and the Montreal community at large. It would provide greater accountability on the part of food service providers and allow students to have a better idea of where their meals are coming from.

Thus, if a group feels they are not being justly accommodated, they would have greater means to go straight to the source.

We have seen the benefits of such changes in recent years with The Hive student-run co-op, which replaced the Java U café on the Hall Building’s second floor. Other great alternatives, such as the People’s Potato and Café X in the EV and VA buildings, have also proven very popular among students.

Concordia should engage in more local food production and work towards emancipating itself from an industrial conglomerate while simultaneously reducing its environmental footprint.