If you are a McGill student, it is very likely you have noticed signs and stickers posted all over campus addressing food insecurity on campus. These posters were put up by Let’s Eat McGill, a student-run organization that advocates for food security on campus, which Let’s Eat McGill defined as “every student hav[ing] stable access to affordable, fulfilling food” where “no students skip or minimize their meals because of cost or insufficient options.” On Tuesday, March 7th, Let’s Eat McGill hosted an assembly to discuss food insecurity on campus.
The assembly featured informative and interactive components. Students who attended the assembly were given opportunities to voice and discuss their grievances and frustrations with food prices, options, accessibility on campus, and McGill Student Housing and Hospitality Services (SHHS), which runs most of the food on campus. Members of Let’s Eat McGill also presented information regarding the history of the food system at McGill, the current food system at McGill, and ways to get involved in food activism.
It took place at 6:00 pm in the Arts Building, and the room was completely full. Attendee and Political Science student Alec Jolley (U2) shared that he “got to the assembly several minutes before it started and struggled to find a seat” and that “by the time it started, the aisles were full of people sitting on the floor.” Religious Studies student Charlie Zacks (U1) described the atmosphere of the event as feeling as though “the whole place had energy,” and “it seemed…like people were passionate about making change.”
The presenters from Let’s Eat McGill explained the history of on-campus food and the food system at McGill to show that food and cafeteria options have not always existed as they do today. They explained that before 2000, there were over 20 student-run cafes at McGill, representing the majority of food options on campus at the time. Since then, McGill has shifted towards privatizing food on campus by bringing food services under major corporations – initially Chartwell and now Dana Hospitality. This has led to a monopolization of food services on campus. Let’s Eat McGill discussed the solution of bringing student-run cafes back to campus to have more affordable food, a larger variety of options, and have cafes that feel more like community spaces. Jolley shared with the Bull and Bear that he is “particularly passionate about increasing the presence of student-run food services on campus.” Further, Zacks mentioned that he believes “McGill’s privatization of public space has led to an overall decrease in community.”
In an interview with the Bull and Bear, Let’s Eat McGill member and one of the assembly leaders, Environment and Urban Studies student Lola Milder (U2), shared that they started meeting in mid-January to plan this assembly. The team saw this assembly as, what Milder described as, “an easy first avenue for getting people involved and seeing whether there was support for this on campus.” When asked about how she thought the assembly went, Milder shared that “she feels really energized by how the assembly went” and “grateful for all the people who came and all the people who supported.”
In interviews with the Bull and Bear, attendees were asked what motivated them to attend the event. Environment and Gender, Sexuality, Feminist, and Social Justice Studies Student Elise Yang (U2) shared that she attended because she is “appalled at the high prices of food in the dining halls and want[s] to be a part of the movement to increase food access on campus.” Many other attendees who were interviewed echoed Yang’s frustration’s about the high prices of food on campus. Environment and Economics student Ada Collins (U1) explained that she attended to “gain a more comprehensive perspective on the issue of food security at McGill” and “to share in the collective grievances.” Another student who requested to remain anonymous told the Bull and Bear that they attended because they feel like food insecurity on campus “seems like such a glaring issue that needs to be addressed.”
In a statement to the Bull and Bear from the McGill administration, they shared that “McGill Student Housing and Hospitality Services (SHHS) is sensitive to the financial challenges that many students are facing.” However, many students do not feel the administration is not doing enough to address food insecurity caused by their overpriced food. Student attendee Collins shared that “food security is a serious issue” which “seems largely disregarded by the university.” Additionally, an anonymous student attendee shared that they feel students “lack information on what justifies having a meal plan, that when divided monthly, is over 2 times the cost of monthly groceries.” The administration explained that price increases are due to inflation, something that Let’s Eat McGill member Milder shared that she administration would likely mention to justify their high prices. Milder shared “that its not only on the Student Housing and Hospitality Services but also on the greater university to step in and subsidize SHHS” so that they cover for inflation because “McGill is the landlord for these spaces and so blaming this on operational costs is a sly way of trying to wiggle out if it” because “McGill has a relevant part in what those operational costs are.” The administration also stated that McGill is offered food at “competitive prices.” But, students who attended the assembly described prices as “unaffordable,” “ridiculous,” and “inaccessible” and expressed that they were “appalled” and “disgusted” by the price of food on campus in comparison to many off-campus options.
Part of the presentation during the assembly explained how students can get involved in Let’s Eat McGill and food activism on campus. Students can become more involved by signing and sharing their petition, sharing their Instagram, making announcements about it in classes or sharing information for professors to post on MyCourses, and even joining one of Let’s Eat McGill’s working groups to be part of their organizing by filling out this form. Further, they informed attendees about the sit-in Let’s Eat McGill is hosting in the Student Housing and Hospitality Services office this upcoming Tuesday, March 14th; further information is provided on their Instagram, @lets.eat.mcgill.