Food for Thought: The Future of Food at Acadia

As Acadia’s contract with Chartwells Canada comes to an end in April 2019, Acadia University faces a decision that will impact students for the next several years. Chartwells Canada has provided our campus with food services for the past 12 years, but now is the time to evaluate what we want in the next contract, and who will be best able to meet our needs moving forward.

On November 6th, 2018, a student consultation on campus food services was held in the Student Union Building, where students were invited to share their ideas for the next contract. Brief yet engaging discussions were held at numerous tables, facilitated by the students of Dr. Alan Warner’s Sustainable Food Systems course (CODE 3603). Participants got the chance to visit tables focused on different topics, including health, sustainability, affordability, accessibility, community, education, engagement, as well as service, partnership and accountability.

Many thoughts were shared at each table, including what students like about the current services, and what changes they want to see. This feedback will help build a list of Acadia’s desires for the next contract, which will be given to Chartwells Canada as well as other catering companies. The companies may then use this list to prepare a potential service plan that fits the school’s needs.

Health is an important consideration with regard to the food provided for on-campus students. Having healthy food available throughout the day, such as fresh fruit and veggies, is an aspect of the current meal service that is well appreciated. However, it was remarked that an expansion of healthier options would be valued, especially for those with dietary restrictions who may have a harder time finding certain nutrients. Another way to promote well-being could be to restrict the availability of unhealthy food. Although, the idea of pizza and desserts ready at all times sounds appetizing, it does not facilitate a healthy diet.

Another big concern is sustainability. Currently, Chartwells Canada provides some food from local sources, such as the raw eggs in the My Pantry area and certain vegetables.  However, there is room for more sustainable initiatives in the next contract, as students would like to see a decrease in food waste and in the use of disposable dishes (which may require an investment in more reliable dishwashers). An increase in meatless meals and fair-trade products would also contribute to a sustainable system.

The cost of a meal plan at Acadia is nothing trivial and motivates many students to move off campus in search of cheaper food. The affordability of on-campus food is an important consideration for the contract, and suggestions to ease the costs included having a choice of different meal plans based on dietary preferences and allowing unused flex cash to be carried over for the next academic year. Deals currently offered for off-campus students, such as 5 lunches for $25, are agreed to be a good idea, though more promotion of these deals would be appreciated.  

Accessibility in terms of food services means having access to foods that meet health and dietary restrictions, at times that fit students’ varying schedules. Extended hours are desired; currently, dining hall closes at 10pm every night and only opens at 8am on weekends. These hours may be limiting for students on sport teams with early practices and other full schedules.

Strong community relationships are needed for a successful system, and while Chartwells Canada has several local partnerships at the moment, students would like to see more. Chartwells Canada also hosts monthly theme nights at dining hall which highlight the cuisine of different countries. More experiences like this would contribute to a meaningful sense of community.

Students also emphasized the importance of education for both the food providers and consumers. Staff should always be aware of the ingredients they’re serving so that they can accurately inform people with allergies. Transparency is key. Students should be able to easily find out where their food is from and how it’s made.

Engaging students in informative workshops would be a step in the right direction. Chartwells Canada seems to have several opportunities to promote engagement with students. The dining hall website provides students with daily menus, a calendar of events, and even the opportunity to submit a recipe which could be featured in the menu.

Finally, taking into consideration the service, partnership and accountability of a food provider is essential. The friendliness of current employees is highly valued by students, and good relationships should continue to be emphasized in the service. Meanwhile, more local partnerships should be explored. For example, a system to spend meal plan credits at the Farmers’ Market is desired by some students.

All of these considerations will be taken into account when a new contract is created at the end of April 2019. Food has an enormous impact on our lives and the decisions made next year will affect Acadia students for the next 10 to 15 years. Many students took this opportunity to have their voices heard and ensure a healthy and sustainable system is created. If you missed the student consultation but have an opinion to share, don’t hesitate to contact the Acadia Students’ Union Executive Team with your thoughts.

Natalie Weder is a second year Biology student