Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Ladle liberty

Student levies fighting corporate food are unprincipled, immoral

Michael Kennedy, Opinions Contributor

Michael Kennedy is a fourth year political science student and executive director of the Dal Liberty Society.


Next week, students will be asked to vote on a referendum to decide whether student fees should be increased in order to provide a levy to the Loaded Ladle, an anti-corporate food collective. I, and many members of the Dal Liberty Society, will be voting against the “Loaded Ladle levy” on both moral and common-sense grounds.

While all Dal students would be expected to finance the Loaded Ladle’s staff and operations, only about 30 per cent of Dal students can expect to enjoy it.

The business plan of the Loaded Ladle says that by paying your $2 levy, you get to eat meals for free. If you aren’t a Dal student or you’ve opted out of the collective, you have to pay $1. Sounds great, right?

However, based on the Loaded Ladle’s own business plan, they only expect to serve about 200 meals per week. In order to provide enough food for all Dalhousie students to enjoy, they would need to provide at least 600 meals per week.

Perhaps the Loaded Ladle is banking on 70 per cent of students not wanting to consume the cheap, delicious meals they want to provide. Not likely. At a cost of $0, I imagine most cash-strapped Dalhousie students would want to enjoy the food that they financed.

So the inevitable result of a Loaded Ladle levy is that for every ten students who want some grub, three students will be getting it. That means that ten thousand Dal students would have paid $20,000 to sit on the sidelines and hope that a well-fed lucky Ladler will throw them some scraps.

The solution: get to the Ladle before anybody else. Of course, this is easier said than done. At Concordia University, where a similar levy-funded food collective exists, this means waiting in line for at least 45 minutes before serving starts. I can’t speak for all students, but I know that 45 minutes spent in line waiting for a meal is 45 minutes I don’t have. I imagine that most study-centric students would agree. Arguably, they would not see why they should therefore be forced to finance it.

Ladlers might respond by touting their operation as altruistic. While you may not get to enjoy some Loaded Ladle goodness, those members of the collective who have less money than you would be able to get some much-needed sustenance. The humanitarian problem with the Loaded Ladle, then, is that there is no reason why those students who need cheap food the most will be the first ones in line. And, for those students who can’t afford other food options, we already have a student-financed food bank.

For those not convinced by Ladle economics, there is a principled motive to vote no to the levy. While the Loaded Ladle is touted as an “ethical” alternative to the corporate food monopoly on campus, I think it’s unethical for a business with an ideological agenda being able to take the money of students, whether or not those students agree with that business’s ideology. For all their good intentions, it’s hard to deny a political bias in the Loaded Ladle; the organization’s description includes a bat at corporate food and commits the group to “the broader goals of social and environmental justice.”

Regardless of how many students agree or disagree with that mission statement, it is my belief that a society that is politically biased should not receive student money automatically. If I don’t support a project on principle, my money should not be used to finance it. Students who do agree with the mission should be the ones to pay for it. If I don’t want to support Ladle politics, why should I be automatically included in order to study at Dalhousie?

We’ve campaigned on this idea before, and the typical response is “Don’t worry, you can opt out!” One major problem with an opt-out is that many students don’t have the time nor the energy to make an unnecessary, often awkward, trek to the office of that society to ask for their money back. Based on my experience, requesting an opt-out typically involves answering a multitude of questions about what the organization in question does, all of which are meant to beg the question “why are you such a bad person?!”

The most likely reason why levied societies prefer opt-outs to opt-ins is that it allows them to capitalize on the apathy of students. Most students at Dalhousie only have time for homework, sex, and food (and if they’re lucky, sleep). They don’t care about DSU politics, as evidenced by the abysmal annual voter turnout at DSU elections. During the opt-out period for NSPIRG, almost all students the Liberty Society recruited to opt-out hadn’t a clue that they were financing a political society, and didn’t know they had the option to get it back.

Apathy is bad, sure. But apathetic students shouldn’t be taken advantage of by societies with political goals. If the Loaded Ladle believes in its values, then they should be able to rely on the generosity and dedication of students and members of the community who believe in their mandate as passionately as they do.

Organizations that rely on their stakeholders are more dynamic and better managed than those that rely on tax dollars. If a freely-funded Loaded Ladle were to emerge on campus, I would be the first to applaud.

That’s why members and supporters of the Dal Liberty Society, including myself, will be voting against the levy. It is wrong in principle, and it is bad in practice. I urge Dalhousie students to do the same.


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