Providing access to an affordable and healthy food selection is not the responsibility of students
by: Marissa Ditoro
In the age of fake news and late-night tweets about political opinions, it’s easy to catch the wrong message about what’s happening out in the world and at home.
But not to worry, as not all media outlets are purveyors of fake news. The Sentient is here to give you the facts and to let you decide if it’s worthy enough of the fake news title.
Now, you may have been receiving conflicting messages about the state of food security here at Algoma, whether that be from actual data or personal observations. To first understand the status of food security at Algoma, one must first understand what food security is. To be food secure is to have consistent access to enough nutritious and affordable food. It is to be able to lead a healthy life that is also relevant and appropriate to the culture in which one lives.
On one hand, the wide use of the Food Pantry by Algoma University’s residence students may lead you to believe we have magic beans down there. In reality, it is actually indicative of a much more serious issue; a lack of widespread and consistent access to healthy and affordable food on campus.
We are not food secure at Algoma University. Both in the sense that we are not getting the food that we need and also in the sense that our access is limited to one provider with a monopoly on food sales; Morningstar Cafeteria (a First Nations run company, which in theory, should be actually operating on the principles of the medicine wheel and holistic way of living, as their mission statement states). Side note: please utilize the food pantry, regardless of your financial position. The Food Pantry and staff are an amazing resource. They want and need students to come and use the pantry!
While student run food pantries and pay what you can feasts are fantastic, they are not (and should not be) the solution to the food security predicament on campus. Food security should not solely rely on unpaid student labor to solve and provide for the results of a systemic, institutionalized manipulation of students and their stomachs. At Algoma University, students have historically been the ones to raise issues with the food services, they have continuously done so. It is not feasible or right to expect students to do the entirety of work to ensure and maintain food services standards and production. It is clear to see that students and staff at Algoma University are not happy with the services through the audible gasps when paying over ten dollars for a salad, verbal dissatisfaction with selection and constant questioning of budgets when ordering fruit trays for campus events through the catering service Morningstar offers. Algoma University is in dire straits when it comes to accessing food because the captive audience of students is being exploited without any other feasible options for food. In particular, those in residence on an inefficient, not to mention, mandatory meal plan.
How does one survive in such an environment? According to student comments compiled last Spring, you either “Suck on ice cubes,” “Stop eating,” or “Eat one slice of cheese for the day…” At least with the slice of cheese, you’re getting a little bit of protein. To be fair, Morningstar has made improvements. These include a fountain pop machine (we need the sugar for studying), many discussions with students (lots of talking), cosmetic improvements with back-lit photos of carrots on the ceiling (you look good, you feel good), and the new bowl options (which are similar to the options served at the popular restaurant, Freshii – staying hip).
Now, to make this clear, this particular campaign to work towards food security is directed against an institutionalized way of conducting business in an exploitative manner, resistance to meaningful change, and a bureaucratic way of working with students for change. This is not about the actions of individual workers. Food security organizers such as Dallyn Cann and the Algoma University Students Union (AUSU) have been expressive in making it clear that they support front line workers and acknowledge the difficulties of working within that position. Part of this campaign to work towards a more food secure campus is the desire to improve the working conditions and relations with the workers through advocacy, demonstrations, and face to face discussions.
Students have been leading the charge to fight for an improvement to the food services available here on campus as we stand in solidarity with other campuses across Ontario. In fact, AUSU’s president, Pauline Danquah, passed a motion at the Annual General Meeting of Ontario Student Unions for the Canadian Federation of Students to financially support attendance at the National Food Summit in Québec, which occurred in early November of 2018. This summit featured speakers and workshops relevant to food security work and planning. It brought together students working on common issues regarding food and marginalization across the country.
Not all of the food security issue is negative. The newly hired administration within Algoma University, such as the financial and student life departments, are on board with efforts to reach a solution with students on the food provider situation. This has included discussions with student leaders, focus groups on improvements needed for the university (conducted late last year), and a vocal show of support for student voices. Residence advisors note a renewal of faith in administration and their capacity to enact a change with food service providers on campus as well as the future of food security at Algoma U. Amongst the optimism, we are also waiting to see evidence of long-term change.
This article will be part of a series in which food providers on campus, Algoma U administration, AUSU executives, campus leaders, and students at large will be interviewed to provide their input, progress, and personal experiences. Stay tuned for more updates on our food situation, political references, and rallying cries for demonstrations!