UTM students expressed their complaints about campus food at UTMSU’s “Eat the System: Changing Food Campus Systems” last Wednesday, a discussion on food accessibility held as part of eXpression Against Oppression Week.
Guests from the Meal Exchange and Ryerson University’s student-run Good Food Now campaign attended the event and encouraged students to mobilize against food insecurity on campus.
“We’re hearing the same complaints,” said guest speaker Andrew McAllister, referring to food on campuses across Canada, “that it’s not healthy, it’s expensive, that the food sucks.”
McAllister, last year’s VP operations of the Ryerson students’ union, helped organize a Ryerson campaign for cheaper food that’s also ethically produced and environmentally friendly. The campaign was launched in response to news that Ryerson’s contract with its food provider, Aramark Canada, was going to expire that year.
Wednesday’s event was partly organized in the context of the impending expiration of UTM’s contract with its current food service provider, Chartwells, a division of Compass Group Canada. The contract is set to expire at the end of the current school year.
Online minutes of a meeting of the Food Service Advisory Committee, a body that advises the director of hospitality and retail services on issues pertaining to food services, dated December 12, cite Paul Donoghue as stating that the contract between UTM and Chartwells will expire on April 30. More detail on the statement is not available because the meeting was in camera at the time.
The minutes also mention a request for proposal for a UTM food service provider, with details to be made public this year.
According to the blacked-out version of the contract released to UTMSU by the university, UTM signed an amendment to the contract in 2009, agreeing “to provide financial relief to Chartwells so that Chartwells will continue food services operations for the balance of the term of the food services contract”.
The amendment—the second made to the original Chartwells contract—states that this agreement was put in place because “Chartwells has experienced financial difficulties in the performance of its obligations under the food services contract.”
When asked about this agreement, Christine Capewell, the director of business services, who signed the second amendment, said that the university’s decision to release the contract is currently being appealled to the information and privacy commissioner of Ontario.
However, she said she was able to reveal that the amendment was added in order to change the direction of “capital investment and capital expansion of food services” on campus.
“That change in direction was a result of the evolution toward a campus master plan for food services,” wrote Capewell in an email, adding that the amendment allowed UTM to “assert more control” over the investments.
She said this added control allowed UTM to expand and renovate its food services in the Instructional Building and the TFC, as well as in the reconstructed North Building and Innovation Complex, which are scheduled to open this fall.
She also mentioned that there would be further expansion in the next stage of renovations of the Davis Building, which will include the “Student Services Plaza”.
However, the causes of Chartwells’ financial losses remain unclear, as do the reasons the university agreed to cover those losses.
Food providers may be suffering across university campuses. Last February, the Toronto Star reported that Ryerson University had spent over $5.6 million covering Aramark’s financial losses.
Chartwells replaced Aramark as UTM’s provider at the beginning of the 2004/05 school year, according to an article in the Medium from that time.
The next meeting of the Food Service Advisory Committee is scheduled for this Thursday.