Taking Back the Plate

2nd Annual Concordia Transitions Brings Co-op Specialists to ConU

Photo Shaun Michaud

There’s still a lot left to do before Concordia could see its food system fully run by students.

Last year’s Concordia Transitions—a daylong conference promoting food cooperatives—focused on the building blocks of the school’s first food cooperative, the Hive Café.

This year, the conference focused on occupying space. The Concordia Food Coalition and the Concordia Student Union want to expand the ways Concordia can be self-sufficient when it comes to providing food for its population.

The goal is to eliminate big companies having control over most of the food sources at the university. An exclusivity contract Chartwells signed with Concordia 12 years ago is ending soon.

“There’s a long-term strategy and the little events add up,” CSU VP Sustainability and Transitions organizer Jessica Cabana told The Link. “The more we add pieces of the puzzle, the more it becomes the transition to a fully student-run food system.”

The conference, held Sunday on the seventh floor, featured three speakers experienced with food and housing cooperatives, as well as workshops on food activism, cooperatives and growing and making different foods.

Succulent houseplants were placed on round tables, where half-eaten bagels and different coloured mugs filled with tea and coffee lingered from the 9 a.m. breakfast. Each table was abuzz with students, growing livelier as the morning progressed.

Events like Transitions help create awareness about the movement toward a student-run cafeteria and bring more people into the fold. After the first Transitions event last February, several people got involved in the Hive Cafe project and have remained on board since then, Cabana explained.

“They really helped push the food movements forward at Concordia,” she said of those that got involved after last year’s conference.

If last year’s conference was about making the Hive Café a reality in place of the Hall Building’s Java U, this year the CSU is nearing the development of a Loyola Greenhouse. Cabana says the union is still working out costs and location.

It’s one more step towards developing the capacity to create a cooperative food system—from growing to selling—that survives the transient nature of student bodies, Cabana said.

She said the CSU and CFC would like to see more of the spaces owned by students occupied, “taking them back, making sure they’re student-run and that they’re viable,” Cabana said. “We want to make sure that when we take over, that it’s successful. That it’s not just taking over to take over.”

The Concordia Food Coalition is one of the bidders in the request for proposal (RFP) for a new campus-wide food service provider, which should be ready within the month, according to university spokesperson Chris Mota.

The CFC’s aim is for several smaller organizations to take over the feat of feeding Concordia’s 43,000 students, rather than leaving it in the hands of one multi-national corporation. It says it would increase accountability and sustainability for the university’s food sources.

Malik Yakini of the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network, who helped create urban agriculture farms D-Town Farms, said consumers shouldn’t be reliant on food supplies from someone else.

“The majority population has to lead the work,” Yakini said, referring to a time 10 years ago when all of Detroit’s grocery stores were run by white owners and to organizations that resemble his but aren’t run by black people, which make up the majority of Detroit’s population.

He explained that the last nationally -owned grocery store in Detroit closed its doors in 2007 and that the small stores in the city sell lower-grade produce, while grocery stores in the predominantly white suburbs sell Grade A fruits and vegetables.

“We think it’s important that the people who are most impacted by food insecurity, the people who are most marginalized lead the work to change the food system,” he told the room, which was overflowing with people during his speech.

Yakini said there were several things he wanted students to think of in developing food systems within the university: white supremacy and “the importance of equity and justice in the food system.”

“Capitalism is a bad idea for human beings period,” he said, linking the ideology and foreign food sources, like what California is to Montreal.

And patriarchy, “that somehow suggests that men are more capable of leading.” Yakini said women were often sexually harassed while trying to do groceries in Detroit.

“I did want to mention [these concepts] as I frame the work that we do, and I hope that as you go about creating a sustainable food system here on the campus, that you think about these ideas and that they help guide the work that you’re doing here,” he added.

The conference’s first speaker, Laurent Levesque of the Unité de travail pour l’implantation de logement étudiant (UTILE), spoke of the process of developing co-ops within a student structure. The group has been researching student housing in the city and elsewhere in the hopes of creating a student-housing co-op.

In creating a co-op that can be sustained despite student turnover, organizers need to understand where it could falter, Levesque said. But it’s also “important to break the traditional [existing] structures,” he concluded.