Letter to the editor – Food services perspectives (TRU)

TRUSU and TRU share thoughts on the state of food services at the university

See also: Letter to the editor from TRUSU’s Michael Zaitlin


Re: Food options on campus are leaving students hungry for choice.

According to Michael Zaitlin, Student Caucus Chair of the TRU Student Union, students made it clear during TRUSU’s annual Student Budget Consultation that food services on campus weren’t good enough.

Providing food service to our students that is varied, healthy and available is our priority, at TRU food services, and a responsibility we take very seriously. It’s why we negotiated a comprehensive arrangement with Aramark based on an understanding that they will be active partners with us in advancing the well-being of our students and the choices available to our community. It’s why we continually survey students, listen to their feedback and make changes. There has been significant investment in TRU food service over the last three years.

It is a program that is not complete and will continue to evolve to meet the needs of our community. For example: In the Canadian University Survey Consortium (CUSC) 2015 survey, 86 percent of first year students were satisfied with food services on campus. The numbers are not so good for students in their fourth year when only 59 percent were satisfied.  So while TRU food services’ vigilant work with Aramark is generating good levels of satisfaction for the first year of a student’s experience, it’s important to know that students expect greater choice and diversity the longer they are here, despite what the value for money might be. Eventually we all get tired of eating the same thing, right?

Surveys like this are one of the reasons we have changed the hours of operation at a variety of food outlets on campus. Several are now open after 5 p.m.; The Den, from 11:30 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. Monday to Friday and Starbucks, from 7:30 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., Monday to Thursday and 7:30 am to 6:00pm on Fridays. Tim Hortons is open 7:30 am to 7:00 pm, Monday to Thursday and 7:30 am to 5:00 pm on Fridays. The U&M Deli is open 9:00 am to 6:00 pm, Monday to Thursday and 9:00 am to 4:00 pm on Fridays.  The Den is now also open to all ages – it’s no longer just a bar, it’s a restaurant with daily specials.

The surveys are also the reason that there has been an increase in the amount of dietary options available on campus. We listened, we ensured Aramark was made aware of student needs for choice and, as a result, there are now far more gluten free, vegetarian, vegan and Halal options on campus, with plans to expand where possible.

But students are not only concerned about food choices. Students are also concerned about sustainability. TRU food services has steadily increased its commitment to the environment by offering fair trade coffee at a number of the food outlets, offering fair trade chocolate, composting coffee grounds, and making the main kitchen in the CAC a major part of the composting program at TRU with all cooking oil recycled.

We also know that students are concerned about part-time jobs that can work with their busy class schedules and help them cover their living costs while they study. Over the last three years 65 per cent of the TRU food service workforce has been students. Since 2013, the 100 students we employ each year have collectively earned almost $1.4 million in wages – and we’ve been able to make student employment a front-and-centre commitment, simply by being the campus’s major food service provider.

We are proud to offer an Aramark-funded Annual marketing internship for a TRU student that enables the student to apply the knowledge from the class room directly to a business operation.  This position has consistently led to full-time employment after graduation since it was implemented.

Currently, 17 TRU Alumni hold supervisory and managerial positions within TRU food services. Their salaries are paid for by Aramark.

TRU food services is always working with Aramark to encourage its active support of students in many different ways – and our efforts have netted measurable gains. Aramark sponsors major events that help raise money for student scholarships including the annual Gala, the Foundation Golf Tournament, and the Sports Task Force Golf Tournament. Aramark’s annual $5000 student scholarship award also advances this goal, as does its contribution of almost $3,500 to TRUSU’s food bank initiatives.

Besides gifts of cash, Aramark provides opportunities for students with cognitive challenges in the Education Skills Training Program (ESTR). Food outlets and the main kitchen are used as training labs for ESTR students. These students get a chance to develop skills that assist with future employment.

TRU Culinary Arts has also benefited from the food services on campus by being able to purchase food at Aramark-negotiated purchasing rates, saving the program potentially thousands of dollars per year and lowering their operating expense. These savings may also be passed along directly to students by keeping the prices lower in the Culinary Arts cafeteria, a cafeteria that all staff, students and faculty can enjoy.

All in all, well over a million dollars has been given back to TRU. These are savings that offset costs in other areas and provide direct benefits to students. 

In the quest for food choice the chair of the student caucus calls for an immediate action to introduce competition to food services on campus.  TRU only has one commercial kitchen serving the entire campus. Private providers would have to risk significant capital investment to increase our commercial kitchen facilities.

TRU and its students will pay dearly for the price of TRUSU’s proposed “choice” which identifies no guaranteed return or identifiable benefit to the community. Is “competition” as TRUSU has defined it, worth the price?

We believe our approach to university food services is innovative, as it goes far beyond tray and plate to extend into the very lives and livelihoods of our students. That’s because it’s based on years of systematic and diligent work by TRU food services to develop Aramark into a contributing supplier. We also know that improvements can always be made. Be assured that we have been listening and will continue to do so. Now’s the time for a constructive conversation about what we can do better…. challenge us and measure our response. Email us your comments to foodservicesfeedback@tru.ca.

 

Glenn Read
Director, TRU Ancillary Services