Campus eats: How do nutritious options stack up at Ryerson, U of T and George Brown? Part 1

“Campus eats” is a three-part series of articles comparing the positive and negative aspects of food services at Ryerson, the University of Toronto and George Brown College. Stay tuned for parts two and three, coming soon at ryersonian.ca. 

Ryerson

Ryerson’s food services revamped its reputation after bringing in food activist and professional chef Joshna Maharaj. After changing from Aramark to Chartwells as the main food service provider, Ryerson has been able to move on from serving food that disappointed students. Maharaj also eliminated fast-food chains like Extreme Pita and Pizza Pizza from the Hub Café and replaced them with in-house pizza and salad restaurants.

Meal Plans

Ryerson offers two different types of meals plans: a Community Meal Plan (or non-residence meal plan) and a Residence Meal Plan. Meal plans are mandatory for most residences. Students who choose plans at $500, $750 or $1,500 price points are eligible to receive 10 per cent bonus dollars and use their card at campus vending machines. A tax-exempt meal plan costs $2,350 and also includes 10 per cent bonus dollars.

How to Pay

Ryerson students can pay using their student card, also known as a OneCard, by purchasing a meal plan and loading the funds onto the card. With a minimum load of $100, there is no cash back option but funds do not expire and roll over to the next year if not used. Before fall of this year, meal plan dollars were not refundable and did not roll over to the next year.

The Good

Ryerson has said its food services are committed to offering fresh, wholesome food above all else, especially since Maharaj came on board. Vegan, vegetarian, halal, gluten-free and local food options are available alongside a rotating menu featuring fresh and made-to-order meals that change every three weeks.

“For the most part I think the food was probably pretty healthy,” said Kennedy Robinson, a third-year graphic design student who lived in residence during her first year of school.

“The specials felt more or less home-cooked and they also promoted that they were a healthy cafeteria fairly well. There were lots of options for whole grain, gluten-free and vegetarian meals.”

“There are lots of values present in the menu. Seasonality is at the top of the list, and then it’s about diversity,” said Maharaj. “We want there to be an adequate reflection of the vibe of this awesome city, but diversity is also about inclusion and making sure there are substantial meals for people who have diet restrictions.”

Substitutions were also top of the line for Maharaj, who noted that the three-week rotating menu at Ryerson cafeterias reflects not only changes in seasonal offerings, but also the fact that ordering food through Chartwells has changed.

“I think we have to rethink how institutions purchase food,” said Maharaj. “Within the context of one menu cycle, we can change suppliers and change the menu. We’re not stuck to a standard order. With fresh ingredients, you can do any number of things.”

The Bad

Before Maharaj’s takeover, many Ryerson students were disappointed by the lack of healthy food on campus, and the frustration has been well-documented. In fall 2013, Ryerson hired Maharaj, but before that, fast-food dominated.

“If I was craving junk food there was an abundance of choices but if I was craving a healthy meal, choices were few and far between,” said Ashley Heryet, who graduated from Ryerson’s social work program in 2013, just as the changes to food services were beginning.

“Salads and sandwiches were limited, and when they were an option, the price was much higher,” she said.

“It really is a missed opportunity not to feed students well and not support their process with the proper fuel,” said Maharaj. “Some of the biggest objections we hear from students is that they are forced into meal plans but don’t get very great quality food for the money they are spending.”

Noteworthy features

The change of hands is definitely clear around campus. Besides the switch to more wholesome food used across school cafeterias, Rye’s Homegrown, an organization run by Food Services and managed mostly by student volunteers, is dedicated to growing fresh produce on campus. Food Services also offers catering.

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