From the levy to general fund

Hard to argue against high food prices with planned food bank fund leftovers


There’s not a whole lot that we take very seriously on this campus, at least politically, as students. Sure, we’re aware of some of the issues, but in a passing “I could go to that discussion event, but I could also play League of Legends” kind of way. We often don’t have the time, given, for example, the commute that most of us have.

But the one topic that will always make our ears perk up is food.

Putting aside, at least for a moment, the traditional complaints about our campus vendors, let’s take a look at the phenomenon of the food bank.

In an environment where we’re all concerned about what we pay for food, it’s actually quite refreshing that we have a source of free, anonymous food if we need it. And usage has gone up in the last year, so it seems more students are realizing that the option is there.

As they should. We pay a small fee for it, after all, and have for about five years. Across the student body, it adds up to between $12,500 and $14,000, which is a good subsidy for the more cash-strapped among us.

But not all of it, as our lead story this week begins to uncover, ends up allocated to the purchase of food. It’s hard to tell, what with the UTM Students’ Union website being in transition and even the documents that they did bother to put online being unavailable, but it appears they chronically underspend this amount. And the extra flows back into the operating budget, which isn’t bound by the same specific mandate.

And it’s not like we’re prepared to throw money away for food at the moment. This became a topic at the end of last year when Chartwells’ contract was set to expire (and then renewed for a short one-year period). The idea of changing from what we have to something else was, because of a general if vague dissatisfaction, very exciting to Medium readers.

What is it about our food that we don’t like? This was the subject of an open house UTMSU hosted last week with outside consultants brought in, which I would say is upping the ante a little over previous attempts to answer the question.

One line of complaint was that the food just isn’t that good. Hmm, hmm, well, it’s hard to argue with that. Most of what we have is fast food. Some of it is “more edible”, as students said at the open house, but still. The newer options are better approximations of actual food, but we all know it’s still not quite there.

The complaint that keeps coming back and back, on the other hand, is the price. The consultants replied that price comparisons showed that UTM prices are the same as at other Ontario universities. (I’d argue that they certainly aren’t the best deals you can get in food courts in the GTA.)

In any case, after some disappointing responses by the students at the open house to the effect that the price comparisons don’t matter because the tuition is too damn high, the parties apparently settled on the explanation that the food just isn’t worth the price, even if that price is average.

Fair enough. I just bought breakfast at Colman Commons. Two greasy sausages, each the length of my index finger, constituted “one item” that cost $2.99. If UTM prices are “at or below” those at other campuses, I feel very sorry indeed for York et al.

What result will these consultants produce? Not clear yet. There are more open houses to come and students’ responses don’t include enough research or realistic suggestions yet. Perhaps we’ll just get recommendations for the bidding to determine who replaces Chartwells next year. Whether that comes down to any effect on real life is yet to be seen. (The union-introduced value meals, although still limited, are a more practical step than fighting something on the scale of a contract.)

The thrust of my argument here is that this was a UTMSU-run open house and the high cost of UTM food is a constant theme of theirs. So has paying lower fees in general. They seem invested in having students pay less and get more (except perhaps for the catering at their meetings).

So why this five-year complacency about a system whereby we pay more for our food bank than, as far as they determine year after year in their preliminary budgets, we actually need, while they don’t mind having the extra go into the general union pocket? Isn’t this a little hypocritical?

By the by, I’m getting increasingly worried about access as we delve into this topic. We keep pressing for financial documents from the union supported by our own fees, and we keep getting “yeses” and no files.