Content warning: Mention of disordered eating
Students filed into Arts W-215 on the evening of March 7 for an assembly on the food insecurity crisis at McGill hosted by the new campaign Let’s Eat McGill. All seats were full by the time the presentation began, which was rife with photos of expensive cafeteria items, such as a $17 caesar salad and a $15 box of raspberries. Throughout the night, snaps turned to banging on desks as students got fired up about exorbitant food prices on campus.
Moderators discussed the $6,200 per-year fee that McGill requires students living in residences to pay, much of which goes toward food: $4,725 of the fee is dedicated to the mandatory meal plan, $975 is for a meal plan administrative fee, and $500 is put into students’ oneCard accounts for expenses such as laundry and eating at affiliated off-campus dining spots. Many at the assembly said that the plan only covered one or two meals a day, forcing them to find food elsewhere.
“I was in residence last year [….] I would go grocery shopping to supplement [the meal plan] which is ridiculous, because, […] it’s like $192 a week [….] Where is the money going?” Sadie Cambray, U2 Arts, told the The McGill Tribune.
Roommates Alyssa Abou-Chakra, U1 Science, and Miranda Roberts Nouel, U1 Arts, were similarly shocked that 10 items from Provigo only came out to around $70 because of the prices they were used to paying at McGill’s dining halls and cafés.
Students also shared frustrations about having to resort to unhealthy eating practices to get by, such as under-eating or skipping meals entirely. Many cited a worsening relationship with food after coming to McGill.
“I came into McGill already with […]very much an eating disorder,” Morgane Garrick, U1 Arts, told the Tribune. “So I already had a really strained relationship with food. And yeah, it went downhill […] particularly my first year in New Res because of the food options, because of the prices.”
The university has held a contract with Dana Hospitality, which calls itself a “food service management firm,” since 2019. The firm supplies food to the five residential dining halls and has gradually taken over many cafés on campus, meaning it has a virtual monopoly at McGill. Students also pointed out that at Macdonald campus, the situation is especially dire because of a lack of both on- and off-campus dining options.
Organizers explained that schools like the University of British Columbia and Concordia University have taken steps to subsidize cafeterias in response to high rates of food insecurity on campus and urged McGill to do the same. The administration, however, claimed it does not have room in the budget to subsidize the cost of food at a recent Board of Governors meeting.
Aside from subsidies, the organizers stressed the importance of student-run on-campus eateries, which used to be abundant at the university but have gradually been phased out. Before McGill’s move toward privatization, student associations operated popular dining spots such as the Architecture Café and The Nest, which both provided accessible, affordable food, as well as employment opportunities for students. Attendees discussed how a return to this model could re-envision dining at McGill as a community-building experience, rather than an isolating and stressful one. Many pointed to Midnight Kitchen’s free lunches as an example.
Alex Bluck Foster, U4 Arts and one of the organizers of the meeting, enthusiastically reflected on the assembly after the event.
“The atmosphere was more than I could have hoped for. Everyone’s been really vocal and had great points. And it’s really nice to hear everyone raise things that I hadn’t even thought about, like getting jobs from student cafés,” Bluck Foster said in an interview with the Tribune. “This definitely was intended to be a collaborative thing [rather than] us as this organization coming and telling you our ideas [….] We want to form a coalition with your help.”