Fifteen dollars for a box of raspberries. Eleven for a slice of pizza. Eight for a package of popcorn. This is the reality for students eating at McGill cafeterias. On March 7, Let’s Eat McGill, a collective of concerned student activists, held an assembly to discuss and mobilize around the food affordability crisis at McGill. The campus-wide uproar illustrates the difficulties exorbitant food prices cause for students and demonstrates that McGill must support student-led initiatives while also using the vast fiscal resources at its disposal to end the food crisis on campus.
High food prices have extensive, detrimental effects on McGill students. Many students are unable to eat three meals a day, resulting in food insecurity, which is associated with increased physical and mental distress, such as higher rates of binge eating and other eating disorders. On top of rising rent and intense class schedules, this physical and mental toll on students has dire economic implications: Students are often forced to pay over $20 for a single meal at the university they pay thousands of dollars in tuition to attend.
McGill directs most of its food services to students living in traditional and hotel-style residences. With the exception of Solin Hall and the MORE Houses, students are forced to pay for a $6,200 meal plan, which the Food and Dining Services website reiterates still does not cover all meals for the academic year. Students hoping to live in residence encounter a coercive system where they must decide between forgoing the traditional residence experience or paying incredibly high prices for a meal plan that fails to cover three meals a day. To end this continued coercion, students must be given an opt-out option from the meal plan if they choose to live in residence and want to have control over their own nutrition.
The crisis students face at the Macdonald campus epitomizes the university’s indifference toward student well-being. Despite providing fresh and sustainable produce for all of McGill, students at Macdonald campus are currently stuck in a food desert after the only grocery store in Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue shut down. Over 600 students must now take a McGill-chartered shuttle scheduled once a week to go to the nearest grocery store a few towns over. With the discovery of asbestos in several of the campus buildings, this crisis intensified and decreased the number of on-campus eateries to only one of two, The Ceilidh, whose restaurant closes at 3 p.m.
It is unacceptable that McGill offers nothing more to Macdonald campus students when the nearest grocery store is accessible only by shuttle bus or car. Shuttle buses do not make up for the university’s negligence. If McGill does not immediately ensure that all dietary needs are met, then students should not be allowed to live there.
In response to student outcry, the university recently announced plans to implement an “all-you-care-to-eat” (AYCTE) model, that will allow students to enter cafeterias for a flat rate and eat as much as they wish. Not enough information has been made available, however, about how the system would function or the plan’s prices. Without addressing costs, the AYCTE will not tackle the main problem facing students: Unreasonable pricing.
McGill must follow the lead of universities across the country willing to put their money into the needs of students. Concordia University and the University of British Columbia have both subsidized rising food costs amidst inflation and are funding student-run grocery stores and cafés. Meanwhile, food prices at McGill are sometimes 200 per cent higher than those of neighbouring grocery stores and restaurants.
McGill blames inflation for the high food prices and argues that the costs are out of its control. This argument, however, does not hold up when McGill has an almost $1.9 billion endowment fund. Although it may upset shareholders, the university must use its immense wealth—much of which is student tuition funds—to subsidize food prices.
Apart from dipping into its endowment fund, McGill must also highlight student-led initiatives instead of outsourcing to private companies. Students have created innovative ways to combat the crisis such as Midnight Kitchen, a collective providing cheap meals to students that deserves to have its fee increase pass during the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Winter referendum. Like Concordia, McGill should fund student-led initiatives and prioritize students in decision-making because they know how to feed themselves—if only their university would let them.