Pardon me if I sound pretentious, but with recent news coverage, I am going to assume that many of you have heard of residence studentsâ€™ fight against the U of Mâ€™s current food bully, ARAMARK. If you are unaware of our present concerns, just track down any resident here and ask him or her what they think of Pembina Hallâ€™s food quality, for which we pay $3,000 a year. Iâ€™m reasonably confident that youâ€™ll get an earful or two. That said, the media attention that we got caught me off guard. Who would have thought that shitty rez food was headline news? For all those who are looking for more insight into this current â€œcontroversy,â€� here are a few more points about ARAMARK that really just grind my gears.
Privatization of our streets
Ever notice how there are never any student groups or councils trying to raise money by having hot dog and burger sales? Itâ€™s because ARAMARK owns the rights to our streets and the discretion to kick out anyone who
doesnâ€™t adhere to the policies of â€œtheirâ€� land. When a group tries to set up shop anywhere on campus they have
to go through ARAMARK, whoâ€™ll either force them to buy their own products at retail â€” around $2.50 a hot dog â€” or nix the deal. By contrast, meat markets charge as little as 8.5 cents a dog â€” thatâ€™s a 300 per cent increase!
Unused meal donations
Residentsâ€™ meals â€œexpireâ€� at the end of every month, meaning a great number of meals donâ€™t get eaten. So we asked
ARAMARK if we could donate our unused meals to local food banks. Their response was a resounding no,
because they would lose (read: make less) money. But when I sat down with the vice-president of Western Canada the answer had changed completely. With no mention of financial impact, he claimed food donations had been attempted before, but they could not ensure that food would remain safe until it reached the food bank.
Now this infuriates me threefold: 1) As residents, we pay for 100 per cent of our meals. We should have the right
to do whatever we want with them, including giving them to Winnipegâ€™s needy. 2) Many residences across
Canada already have these programs and have shown they can work. 3) Winnipeg Harvest told us that they
would drive here to pick up the meals themselves, and Manitobaâ€™s Food Donations Act even protects food donors
from liability. It is evident that ARAMARK must have made no attempts even to contact any food banks; it appears
as though they are lying through their teeth to protect their own wallets â€” and at the expense of Winnipegâ€™s most impoverished.
The Globe and Mailâ€™s C+
In 2004 the University of Manitoba received a pitiful C+ from the Globe and Mail for overall food service. When asked, ARAMARK told us they were providing the best product available for what they charge. So if this is the best Aramark can do, should we be satisfied with being known as a C+ university? I would like to think our students hold themselves to higher standards than that, so why should we be content with an under-achieving food service?
Under the pretense of impartiality, Ancillary Services distributed surveys concerning the food to every resident mailbox. Unfortunately, they also attached a biased cover letter that extolled our current meal plan structure with ARAMARK, while offering such little actual content that it demeaned us as university students in general. With statements describing our meals as â€œbalancedâ€� and â€œwholesome,â€� and claims that ARAMARK offers the lowest prices possible (they charge $21 per pizza and $7 for four juice boxes), all this survey did was give evidence
that whoever distributed it has some kind of warm and fuzzy relationship with ARAMARK that they do not want to give up soon.
While much research has shown Styrofoamâ€™s health and environmental hazards, it seems to fall on deaf ears when it comes to ARAMARK. To combat the â€œexorbitantâ€� costs of missing trays, ARAMARK has significantly increased the use of Styrofoam take-out containers, plates and now even trays. But when I raised the point that the University of Guelph now uses economically comparable, biodegradable products made from corn (not a health hazard), the reaction was that of complete surprise. If a student can find this out within 20 minutes of Internet browsing, how much time did ARAMARK put into examining Styrofoamâ€™s impact before they carted it out by the armful?
But really, this is just a snapshot of the lengths that ARAMARK will go to in protecting their bottom line. There are many more issues that I feel make ARAMARK unfit to go anywhere near this university, and thatâ€™s just me. Five-hundred rez students agree â€” ARAMARK needs to leave ASAP. What kind of problems do you think the other 499 are sick of dealing with?
Matt Soprovich is a second-year arts student and president of the University of Manitoba Student Food Advisory and Recommendation Association (UMSPAR).