Undergraduate students everywhere participate in campus events for the company, intellectual stimulation, and most importantly, the promise of free food. This time-old tradition is an essential part of the student experience that many take for granted. “When I see an event poster, I look to see if there will be food before I decide to attend,” said third year student Tayla Martin. “Whether or not there will be food at the event is definitely a deciding factor for me.” Yet, despite claims made in promotion, many events do not actually offer significant amounts of, if any, food. This reality is changing campus culture, forcing students to ask themselves how hungry they really are before venturing across campus in hopes of a free meal.
Despite student expectations, promises of free refreshments are often unkept. A recent survey conducted by The Beef & Beans found that 79 percent of student “brunches” did not supply a sufficient amount of food for a meal. A student who wished to remain anonymous spoke to us about her experience at a faculty brunch. “I expected to be fed but unfortunately that wasn’t the case. I came on an empty stomach and left on an empty stomach.”
Of the 21 percent of events that did supply food, hot meals were not provided. The most common foods offered were day-old muffins, small danishes, cheese platters, and lukewarm coffee. Although the promise of baked goods may be equally appealing as a meal, many still leave unsatisfied. “I was at a speaker series and wanted a snack,” explained second year engineering student Kyle Schwartz. “I picked a muffin but it was stale. I was hungry so I checked to see if any of the other muffins were good and they were all stale too. It ruined my morning.”
This frustration echoes across campus. Due to budget cuts, organizations across campus are limiting spending wherever possible. This means that students are being fed cheap food – and they are noticing. “I understand that catering an event can be expensive,” elaborated Schwartz, “but we have a Tim’s literally on campus. Come on.”
Fighting the Power
McGill students have not been complacent in the fight for free food. Student groups such as Food at McGill attempts to notify students as to when are where free food will be offered. However, the group has only tweeted about two events in the Winter 2014 semester. Furthermore, many of the offerings tweeted during the 2013-2014 academic year were not in fact free, but just “very cheap”.
Other organizations are attempting to gain recognition on campus by offering free food. Healthy McGill is one such organization. During finals, they supply students with free snacks. However, to the dismay of students, only healthy food options are provided. “With the amount of work I get at McGill, stress eating helps me cope.” commiserated first year biology student Karen Hughes. “The carrot sticks they are offering aren’t going to help me.”
Other students are seeking justice through formal channels in the university itself. The newly founded group Justice For Snackers is currently lobbying administration to institute ethical guidelines to regulate food offerings at events. “What they are doing is just dishonest,” said club founder James Millman, speaking of student organization’s dishonest advertising practices. “The rest of the university has ethical codes to abide by, and they should too.”
Student groups are now recognizing that the more food is offered, the higher the event turnout may be. This knowledge is especially valuable for organizations with poorly attended events.
SSMU’s recent struggles with meeting quorum (the minimum number of students in attendance for decisions to be official) may be solved by offering food. Last semester’s pre-GA suffered from a dismal turnout. The event was intended generate discussion and interest in the topics that would be discussed at the following General Assembly. Only four students attended, three of whom were members of campus publications. In response, the SSMU executives discussed with attendees whether food would draw larger crowds to events. It was decided that bagels, rather than coffee, would entice the most students.
As the student body becomes increasingly disenchanted with the state of events at McGill, clubs may have to innovate to attract students’ interest. No longer will McGill undergraduates accept stale muffins, crusty danishes, and weak coffee served in styrofoam cups as rewards for their participation. “We are working to preserve our dignity,” pronounced Millman. “We slave away studying at McGill. We don’t ask for much in return, but its time that the university shows its gratitude by keeping its promises, and keeping us full.”