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Students starving for ethical food services

Aaron Beale and Gwen Muir
Opinions Contributors

What is wrong with food on campus? To start, food is expensive, of low quality and inconsistent with the needs of the student body. Options for vegans or vegetarians are scant, and oftentimes the limited varieties we do have to choose from are unhealthy and unethically sourced. As students with little free time and resources, making sustainable choices often comes down to making informed consumer choices. At Dalhousie, however, lack of choice is tied to a system of corporate control.
Food contracts at Dal serve commercial interests at the expense of students. A lack of choice stems from a structure in which food service providers don’t have to compete for student customers.
Exclusivity contracts – such as those between the Dalhousie Student Union and Sodexo – allow these companies to remove themselves from levels of competition. Businesses can sell what is cheap and profitable without worrying about the consequences of students heading elsewhere. Some of these contracts are confidential. This makes it impossible for us as students to see, question or criticize these contracts. This privacy prevents us from having any say in the food that we consume.
Students pay for food on campus on top of already hefty tuition fees. Universities have become markets profit-oriented corporations can tap, and through a monopoly that warrants inflated prices and low-quality food, these companies can benefit from high-strung students who are kept on campus for long hours.
Low-income earners should not be forced to go hungry when stranded in the quad. We have the right to voice opinions about where our tuition dollars end up and whom they are supporting. We are the consumer; we deserve a say in the menus that line the Killam and Student Union Building walls and, eventually, our stomachs.
In the SUB, a building that is supposed to be owned by students, we are prevented from running our own food services and are denied the option of choice. No matter the small changes Sodexo may make toward their own environmental practices, these are ultimately short-term, band-aid and unsustainable solutions. Without any student control over the decision-making process and by disallowing competition and transparency, we are left in a limbo of incessant haggling where ‘secret’ contracts continue to be sealed beneath our noses and gaining access to relevant knowledge is a struggle. Rather than having to plea with a corporation that puts profits first, students should have the capacity to be a part of creating a sustainable food system at Dal.
And don’t let yourself be fooled: there are other options. Universities across Canada have taken steps in creating more sustainable, affordable and student-voiced food outlets on campus. The People’s Potato, a non-profit soup kitchen run at Concordia University, serves healthy, ethically sourced food to over 500 students daily. The Seasoned Spoon at Trent University is another example. Food banks at the University of British Columbia and NSCAD are run by students for students and are active in supplying local and healthy food. Most students aren’t even aware that we at Dal also have our own low-profile DSU-run food bank that lacks outreach and did not even open this September.
CAF (Campus Action on Food) is an organization working towards food justice on campus. We strive to create space for choices that are representative of student diversity and accessible to people of low income. We would like to see alternative food options on campus that are ethically manufactured, prepared and delivered. Food services should be run by and for students, before profit. But we see removing food monopolies and creating transparency as essential first steps in enabling food sustainability. Through research, outreach and action, we also hope to provoke awareness on food politics, sustainability and food services.
The SUB belongs to the students. To begin to make sustainable food decisions at Dal, we’ve first got to have the option of choice.

Aaron Beale and Gwen Muir are members of Campus Action on Food (CAF). CAF meets every Wednesday at 4:30 p.m. in the NSPIRG office on the third floor of the SUB.

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