The high cost of food on campus has traditionally garnered disdain from McGill’s student body. Without the flexibility of a meal plan, many students struggle to find coffee and snacks on campus at a price that won’t break the bank. The Arts Undergraduate Society’s (AUS) SNAX is one of few campus food sources that aims to provide a solution to this.
“SNAX is a student-run café that operates out of Leacock,” Holly Hilts, U3 Arts and assistant manager of SNAX, explained. “Our mandate is to be a green, not-for-profit opportunity for students to have jobs on campus and to have affordable snacks.”
In order to uphold the latter part of their mandate, SNAX keeps its prices low by not increasing them to any higher than they need to in order to sustain themselves.
“The amount that we spend on our products, we don’t try and gain more from that,” Hilts said. “We sell it very close to the price that we receive it at [….] If people are looking for vegan products or anything like that, they’re probably used to higher prices.”
In addition to operating with the average student’s budget in mind, SNAX provides employment opportunities that give students a source of income and invaluable work experience, something that many students struggle to find on McGill campus.
“We have a mandate to employ Arts students,” Emma Green, U3 Arts and SNAX manager, explained. “[However,] we can only employ so many students, and I find the frequency with which I receive applications to be troublingly indicative of a lack of student jobs on campus."
Another central tenet of SNAX’s mandate is to limit its own carbon footprint as an organization, and to provide environmentally-conscious students with a source on campus to purchase goods that lower their own carbon footprints.
“We have a few core environmental initiatives,” Green said. “We’re committed to working towards greater sustainability through the materials we use, the distributors and foods we sell, and the projects we carry out. We only provide compostable disposable cups [….] We try to favour local companies, not just to support Montreal business, but also to limit the amount of travel involved in getting these products from their distributor to SNAX. We also try to seek fair trade, organic, and vegetarian/vegan products.”
Along these lines, one of SNAX’s biggest attractions is its “Bring Your Own Mug” deal, in which a large coffee from local Cafe Santropol is discounted from $1.75 to $1 if students provide their own reusable mug. To discourage students from using non-reusable products like paper coffee cups, SNAX also sells its own travel mugs and prices its plastic goods strategically.
“We price water bottles a little bit higher to discourage people from waste,” Hilts said. “We charge for plastic utensils—just little things like that to shove people toward bringing re-usable products.”
Providing students with a wide selection of vegan food options is another key part of SNAX’s environmental initiative. To do so, it partners with local organizations to provide students with vegan food that has travelled limited distance to reach SNAX shelves. Last semester, SNAX began selling locally-produced vegan baked goods from Organic Campus, and at the start of this semester, they began selling brownies and cookies from Sophie Sucrée, a local vegan bakery located in the Plateau. So far, SNAX has received nothing but positive response from their recent partnership with Sophie Sucrée.
“[Sophie Sucrée baked goods] have been selling so much,” Ali Barry, U0 Arts student and SNAX cashier, said. “Within two days, they’re pretty much gone. People see it and they’re like ‘Oh my god, Sophie Sucrée!’ and they’re really excited about it. And it’s good because, obviously it’s vegan stuff too, so it’s more accessible for people who can’t eat [other things] at SNAX.”
Partnerships with local organizations have allowed SNAX to increase the diversity in products sold. This in-part offsets their limitations on selling sandwiches, a constraint placed on them by McGill administration in Winter 2015 in response to violation of a portion of their Memorandum of Agreement (MoA). SNAX management has continued to work with AUS to reach a sound negotiation with McGill that benefits both parties and the student body equally.
“A bulk of the problem with sandwich sales, on the SNAX end of things, stemmed from a lack of clarity in the old [….] contract,” Green explained. “The reason why negotiations have taken a while now is because of a desire, on our end, at least, for greater clarity in wording this time so we can ensure that this doesn’t become a problem again […] As for the future of sandwiches at SNAX, I can tell you that we hope to have them very, very soon.”
SNAX inventory includes more than what its title would indicate, however. The back corner of the store includes useful products to address students’ needs during high-stress times, including Tylenol, Bic pens, Kleenex, Blistex chapstick, and free condoms and lube, provided by Healthy McGill. SNAX also sells New York Times subscriptions, which are quite popular among McGill professors—a niche customer demographic that often come during morning shifts.
“I have a couple of classes I’ve been in where I’ve gotten to know the profs better just because they came to SNAX,” Claire Kingston, sustainability co-ordinator for SNAX, said. “I don’t have a lot of classes where I know the professor very well, but even if I’m in a 300 person class and they know my name just because of SNAX, it’s always a plus.”
Professors are not the only SNAX customers who regularly greet cashiers with a friendly face, however. SNAX employees boast having universally kind and reliable customers across the board.
“I adore working at SNAX for the customer loyalty and good humour,” Green said. “As someone who’s worked a lot of places, I can say that the McGill population prove time and time again to be some of the most considerate customers.”
Full disclosure: SNAX employees Morgan Alexander and Elli Slavitch edit and illustrate for the Tribune, respectively. They did not participate in the writing or editing of this article.