The University of Manitoba Students’ Union (UMSU) hosted an open forum on food services and meal plans on Oct. 4 at the Fort Garry campus, where students came to ask questions and voice their concerns regarding the access to, and quality of, food on campus.
Representatives from Aramark, the food supplier contracted by the U of M, were in attendance to take questions from students, as well as share a presentation detailing new changes to their delivery of food services on campus.
The panel representing Aramark included national director of wellness and sustainability Tina Horsley, operations coordinator Nathan Lo, manager of the fresh food company Joan Mandziuk, Aramark’s Manitoba marketing manager of food services for the fresh food company Ainsley Mitchell, and food services director Dean Duff.
Aramark’s presentation focused largely on the company’s attempts to move towards more environmentally neutral operations on campus.
A broad range of issues with Aramark’s policies and practices were raised by students, including issues pertaining to animal welfare, the inconsistent availability of Halal food and more diverse food, as well as more general concerns regarding the near-monopolization of food services on campus.
Concerning the availability of Halal food on campus, several Aramark representatives commented on the difficulty of consistently obtaining such items from suppliers.
The panel stated that “from a global perspective we are constantly struggling with a balancing act between cost for students, and what we have available. There is an additional cost to some of these items, and the biggest issue we have in obtaining them is availability.”
A recurring grievance from students was the 50 cent fee charged with every debit use at Aramark-operated food suppliers, with one student describing the fee as “absolutely preposterous.”
“That is an issue across Canada that we are looking into,” responded Duff. “That is why we’d love to sell FoodBucks [ . . . ] that is the alternative to using your debit card.”
A related issue that was raised, pertaining to the FoodBucks cards, is the fact that declining balance money must be used up or it will disappear.
“I’ve seen situations where, sometimes, students have no choice at the end of the semester but to buy random things that they don’t like because they know that their declining balance is going to disappear,” commented one student claiming to represent international students on campus.
The panel responded that the situation where students have to use up their FoodBucks, and would not be able to carry them over, applies only to residences that come with a mandatory food plan, which is typically the case in University College. Students on a voluntary plan are eligible to carry their FoodBucks over to the next term.
Aramark pledged to work on building a better menu. A new menu item, “Bison Lasagne,” consisting of all-local ingredients was on hand for students to sample.
The day following the forum, Mitchell commented that she was pleased with what they had learned from meeting with students, and was excited to continue working with students on the issues addressed.
“A lot of constructive discussion was had regarding Food Services on campus andwe are grateful to UMSU for putting on the event.”