The future of Ryerson’s food
Kathryn Weatherley
Ryersonian Staff
Uploaded on 4/9/2013 11:35:11 AM

Ryerson has to pull together a new food service operation that will please students, and they have to do it fast.

The university’s contract with Aramark, the food service company that has run the university’s cafeterias and catering operations since 1993, will terminate at the end of May. 

Recently, Ryerson received some bad press from the Toronto Star who wrote an article criticising Ryerson’s food services and how they footed the bill for more than $5.6 million “losses” that Aramark incurred.

Julia Hanigsberg, Ryerson’s vice president of administration and finance, has spent the last few months researching food and food operations, and says her thoughts about the services offered on the campus have evolved in that time.

“No one is ever going to go hungry on the Ryerson campus because we don’t feed them,” she says. “So … there’s got to be another reason [why] we provide food because there’s lots of food all around the campus.”

For Hanigsberg, food services at Ryerson should focus on engaging students, faculty and staff in the university’s food program, and offer good, sustainable food sources. She says Ryerson is presently doing its research to put together an innovative approach to food on campus, and has been meeting with nearby universities, food activists, and the student non-profit organization meal exchange. 

Hanigsberg says Ryerson is currently well into the development of the public and transparent process of issuing a Request for Proposals (RFP) to food services providers, which anyone can bid on.

Once the requests are in, a committee, which will include student, staff and faculty representation, will deliberate for about two weeks. Any student can apply for a position on the committee, but only two will be chosen.

In terms of what they are looking for from a food provider, they have goals focused on local and sustainable food sources, and student friendly pricing.

The latest development to Ryerson’s food services has been Joshna Maharaj, signing a contract with Ryerson at the end of March to provide advice on the RFP, as well as to develop the future of food. Maharaj is a Toronto chef and activist who made it on the Toronto Star’s list of 12 to watch in 2012, she is interested in the ethical and sustainable aspect of food and is also a hospital food reformer.

Hanigsberg also mentions that the Oakham Cafe, run by the Student Campus Centre, is a “great example of an alternative food service for Ryerson.”

The Ram and the Rye and the Oakham Cafe operate out of the same kitchen and are student-owned, student-run and offer local and sustainably produced food.

Eric Newstadt, Ryerson’s Student Centre general manager, says he isn’t worried about any loss of revenue once Ryerson changes from its current food provider because the food that’s offered by the student-run facilities is what students want.

The pub and cafe are both not-for-profit establishments. Unlike the for-profit food providers, like Aramark, any money the Student Centre makes goes into the business and subsidizes their operations.

“The for-profits have to please not just students, but most importantly their shareholders. And so they need to make money,” Newstadt says. “The way that they are most reliant upon making money is by buying highly processed unethically produced, unsustainably produced food.” At the Student Centre, Newstadt says they negotiate aggressive pricing on relatively inexpensive and fresh foods, and earn discounts instead of rebates and apply those discounts immediately to lower their food costs.

And for Vincent Lee, a third-year biomedical engineer student at Ryerson, lower prices matter.

He often picks the Oakham Cafe over other places on campus because it’s cheap and he prefers the atmosphere, noting that he rarely visits the Hub Cafeteria. When he does, he just gets food to go.

But according to Everest Pandya, also a third-year biomedical engineer student, there aren’t many options for vegetarians on campus. Even at the Oakham Cafe he finds they offer limited breakfast options. Instead he’ll head over to the Eaton Centre three to four times a week because of the variety of options and in his view, a higher-quality product.

“You can go to all these restaurants around here, why go to Ryerson?” asks Pandya.

In response to Ryerson’s current food situation, the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) created the Good Food Co-op. Andrew McAllister, Vice-President Operations, explains it’s an alternative plan for running food services on campus. It involves getting rid of the current contract with Aramark and running food services with a not-for-profit on a co-operative basis. The RSU wants to keep the resources and management of the food operations here on campus instead of an outsourcing to another organization, he says.

The RSU met with Ryerson administration to propose its plan last December, in hopes that this new not-for profit entity would be created. Representatives also went back in January to follow up, and proposed running food in house, so Ryerson would run all the food outlets itself.

The Good Food Co-op was rejected, but raised issues in particular around food quality and food costs.

“[Ryerson] felt they could negotiate those two things within the terms of a contract with a new provider. But we felt otherwise,” says McAllister.

Although their proposal has been rejected, McAllister isn’t completely dissatisfied. He says Ryerson will be going with another contract, but this time it will be a three-year term instead of a five-year term. The university is also planning on having committees to manage and oversee the new provider, as well as hiring an in-house food services director. 

The application for students who want to be on the committee will also appear on

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