‘Lettuce’ be friends: Healthy food on campus

Students eat lunch in the cafeteria in Pitman Hall. (Laura Zizek / Ryersonian Staff)

Students eat lunch in the cafeteria in Pitman Hall. (Laura Zizek/Ryersonian staff)

Five dollars can get you a lot more than it once did at Ryerson’s cafeterias.

Joshna Maharaj is the assistant director of food services and executive chef on campus. She was hired last year to revamp campus menus by providing students with different food choices at affordable prices.

“I had the opportunity to really make a change,” she said. “I want students to fall in love with food, but we also have to understand that students have a fixed income and need healthy and affordable options.”

Maharaj said the changes include introducing food options that surpass what cafeterias often serve.

“We introduced $5 meals and we promised it wouldn’t just be a slice of pizza and a bag of chips,” she said. “We’ve featured roasted chicken, we had a pasta bar, a pho noodle bar, different options and different flavours for students to enjoy.”

According to Maharaj, Ryerson was able to achieve these changes with support from Chartwells food services management, which operates the Hub cafeteria and residence cafeterias. Chartwells promises that 25 per cent of food on campus is made from sustainable and local products. Sustainable food does not harm the environment, is humane for workers and animals and provides fair wages to farmers.

Despite menu changes, Maharaj said students will not lose quality and quantity. “The portion sizes haven’t gotten smaller and the prices haven’t increased,” she said.

Sam Gadzinski is a second-year biology student who said he enjoys eating at Ryerson’s Hub cafeteria. “The food is surprisingly good,” he said. “I eat here often and I find that they change up the menu and it’s not too expensive either, which I like.”

Maharaj says a big challenge is finding a balance between fair wages and lower food prices. “I want to pay the farmers fairly for the beautiful food, but I also want to make sure I am giving students affordable options.”

While Ryerson has made efforts to cut down food prices, costs will never drop dramatically because the university has to pay workers and farmers fair wages. Maharaj said this is an issue that requires more conversation between students and school officials to find common ground.

Even with the cheaper prices, David Braun, a third-year accounting student, rarely buys food on campus. “I try to pack a lunch because I can’t afford to eat here,” he said. “If you allow private companies to come in and sell their food on campus this would give us affordable options because of the competition between vendors.”

Maharaj said she hopes students will think about the environment in addition to what goes into their bodies. “Food transportation is a big contributor to greenhouse gas emissions,” she said. “We have to think about the bigger picture.”

Gadzinski said he agrees that there needs to be a conscious decision to buy local. “We have to think about the environment as well,” he said. “I am all for buying from local farmers and if Ryerson does that then that’s great.”

Maharaj shares a passion for food and said she hopes that she can continue to educate students about the importance of healthy and sustainable food options. “It’s about skills and education,” she said. “We need to be conscious about what we eat and how it can affect our health and our environment.”

This story was first published in The Ryersonian, a weekly newspaper produced by the Ryerson School of Journalism, on February 12, 2014.

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