Around 70 per cent of Ryerson students find healthy on-campus food unaffordable, says Merryn Maynard from Meal Exchange.
That figure is from a survey conducted in the spring and summer of 2017, and is part of a Campus Food Report Card that will be released in the coming months. Ryerson’s campus eateries are largely run by Ryerson Eats, which operates the Hub Café, residence eateries and kiosks that are located across campus. Ryerson Eats advertises its food as being homemade, affordable and locally-sourced.
Maynard is the programs and operations co-ordinator at Meal Exchange, a non-profit that seeks to organize student movements to improve food on campuses across the country. Student food insecurity should be viewed as a marker of equitable access to education, she told the Ryersonian.
“Food is a really important part of a student’s success and how they maintain health at school,” Maynard said.
Kimberly Vaz, former co-ordinator of Ryerson’s Good Food Centre, says the school should be doing more to address unaffordable food on campus. While establishments like Ryerson Eats have done well at accommodating students with dietary restrictions, the options are still unaffordable and inaccessible.
Expensive campus food prevents food-insecure students from engaging in social events at school, Vaz said. Additionally, these students will end up eating somewhere that is cheaper and serves food that is more filling.
“Sometimes that’s a choice and those choices are valid but people shouldn’t have to eat food that isn’t nutrient dense,” she said. “If you’re eating granola bars and Mr. Noodles because that’s what you can afford, but you would really like to be eating a quinoa salad, that’s a problem because it really takes away (your) agency.”
Eating at the Hub Café is a “treat meal,” Vaz said. The school can have healthy and sustainable eating establishments, but they can also make that food more accessible. Ryerson Eats hasn’t done that, said Vaz.
Students have little to no opportunity to direct food programming on campus, Vaz said, and when they do meet with administration, it’s hard to see a tangible change. Vaz suggested Ryerson make efforts to subsidize campus food, or change meal plans so students have the option to spend their money on a Good Food Box.
Either way, giving students a chance to prepare their own food is a better avenue than having students eat out three meals a day while on residence, said Vaz.
“That doesn’t sound like a plan for wellness where you have to eat out three meals a day,” she said.
Voula Cocolakis, executive director of Ryerson Eats, said providing healthy, sustainable and affordable food is a pillar of Ryerson Eats as an operation.
While she couldn’t share any information about their sales and how much students spend on their food, she said she believes Ryerson Eats has affordable and locally-sourced food on campus, citing the Friendly Fiver (a $5 meal) the Hub has every weekday. Furthermore, Reunion Island, the coffee company that has replaced Tim Hortons at kiosks across campus, is a local roaster.
When asked if Ryerson Eats would consider subsidizing its food, Cocolakis initially declined to comment before saying she would need to sit down with individual students to discuss what exactly they found to be unaffordable.
“There’s still work to be done,” she added.
Cathy Cai, a first-year human resources student, told the Ryersonian that Ryerson Eats has been too expensive for her and her friends to eat at.
Since the type of food is similar to the Eaton Centre’s food court, she said she could eat down the street for less and stay full for longer.
“The prices are too high,” she said. “If I want food like that, I can go to the mall.”
Cai is an international student from China. Echoing sentiments expressed by Vaz, Cai said the school should cater more to its diverse population by preparing more culturally appropriate meals. For example, she would consider eating at the Hub Café more if it provided authentic Chinese food.
Last year, it was announced that Ryerson was partnering with Lakehead University and Meal Exchange on a three-year pilot project to examine food insecurity in post-secondary students.
Clickhere to see the results of Meal Exchange’s province-wide Campus Food Report Card.