-Ankit Kumar, Social Media and Content Creation Intern
The Prevalent Food System at Concordia University
Currently, most of the food system at Concordia is controlled by one company – Aramark – that holds an exclusivity contract with the Concordia University. Aramark, besides being a costly option for students (their resident meal plan itself costs a whopping $4100 for a year), is not transparent regarding the sustainability of their food production.This cycle of outsourcing food at Concordia to multinationals that are removed from the day to day realities of student life, whether it be through Sodexo, Aramark or Chartwells, is overbearing the food landscape at Concordia now.
The million-dollar questions that arises is: Why should students settle for an expensive multinational food provider when they can run it themselves and provide affordable food within a socially and environmentally conscious framework?
Sustainability issues with the current food system at Concordia
There are a lot of sustainability issues that are concerned with growing food in our society –
- One of the major problems with the current norm is that it sources its food from thousands of miles away, practically from the other side of the globe. According to a research conducted by Development and Foods Canada, the food in an average Canadian meal travels 3000 kilometres to get to your table. This not only needlessly removes many from the local economy, but also increases Concordia’s carbon footprint. Much of the food is grown on monocrop industrial farms, which rely heavily on chemical pesticides and herbicides to grow (often genetically modified) crops. In 2011, Statistics Canada reported that 69% of Canadian crop farms applied herbicides, 15% employed insecticides and 23% used fungicides. These pesticides get mixed with the water and the earth and have disastrous effects on our health.
- Secondly, the meat and dairy products tend to come from inhuman meat processing plants which often use dangerous and questionable practices. Also, the prevailing multinational corporate model relies on the constant exploitation of workers and if we turn to our own backyard, we will see that we have the same problems related to migrant exploitation here in the province of Quebec. This article in the McGill Daily further elaborates on the plight of migrant workers in Quebec.
- The current food system forces Concordia students who want to live in the university residence to buy an expensive meal plan, without a clear possibility of opting out or using their meal plan money somewhere else, like at a student run café or restaurant. In this light, it’s clear that the food system is specifically organized not to serve the interests of students as stakeholders, but to directly serve the interests of investors as shareholders.
The Solution – Student-Run Initiatives
As students, we can work together, stand up for what we believe in and redesign the way we want to feed our campus. Some of the benefits of student run food initiatives are:
- Student initiatives prioritize accessibility by providing affordable, vegan-friendly and gluten free options, as well as Kosher and Halal foods.
- These spaces also feature locally sourced foods, from as close to the Montreal area as possible. Given the opportunity, students are more likely to source their food from organic farms with environmentally friendly practices. To cite an example, the Concordia Farmers Market is a student-run initiative which offers a collection of goodies to the university community — seasonal vegetables, honey, tea, bread, meat — all locally produced and organic.
- A cooperative model provides living wages for students and community members alike, while working with farms that provide fair and dignified working conditions for their workers. The Hive Café – located at the heart of Concordia University’s Loyola Campus and Downtown campus, is one such solidarity co-op that provides healthy, affordable, and locally produced food options, while highlighting sustainable practices, employing dignified working conditions for suppliers and worker-members alike, nurturing a community-run space, and fostering an alternative food system.
For those who are genuinely interested in changing the food system at Concordia University and are passionate about food, they can choose to pursue food-related courses at Concordia University. You can find the list of courses here.
Imagining the Future!
It is high time that we start building the world that we want to see, and it starts here, on campus. In Concordia University, in the not-so-distant future, it would be beneficial for everyone if most of the food services are student-run.
Concordia Transitions, which will be happening next weekend, Feb 2-4th, is an annual student conference where the focus is on urban agriculture, alternative economics and the massive potential for change within the Concordia Food system. In February, students, faculty, social entrepreneurs, local change-makers, and activists come together to share knowledge and food, and collaborate around how to build a food-system that answers directly to the needs of the Concordia University community – students, workers, teachers, the farmers we depend on, and our community at large.
Negotiating, if not completely withdrawing the contract of Aramark, while making it much more favorable towards students and student-run food providers, are the high hopes of student-led food organizations for the upcoming years. Building a strong alternative food model at Concordia can also inspire and foster change in other universities around the city and the country.
But, it starts with us and it’s happening right now. Let’s change what’s on our plates!