A critical look into Queen’s dining

Students speak to concerns about Queen’s Hospitality Services, Aramark

Students cited a lack of variety in Queen’s foods.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, communities have pushed local food sourcing and systems in anticipation for any affairs that may cause another food shortage.

Local food is known to foster sustainable agriculture and bring greater satisfaction to its customers and producers in regards to nutrition and increased economy. Sustainable food is often seen in local food supply systems and short supply chains because it creates a shorter respiration time for food to expire.

This allows the food to be served of a higher quality due to shorter transportation times and helps build a sense of community, especially in a student central region like Kingston. This type of supply chain has also been prioritized by policy makers because it creates a system that is non-reliant on long-haul transportation.

When investigating the significance of local food sourcing, there’s a difference between local food systems and short supply chains. Local food systems speak to regional sourcing, while short supply chains encourage reduced contact with multiple economic developers.

Queen’s Hospitality Services spoke about its contract with its primary food service provider, Aramark Canada, in a statement to The Journal.

“[The contract] demonstrate[s] a commitment to sustainability and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals through local food sourcing,” Hospitality Services wrote.

Under this contract, a minimum of 30 per cent of food purchases must come from within 500km of campus, and 66 per cent of food purchases must come from within Canada.

Hospitality Services emphasized regional sourcing in an effort to be sustainable and boost their performance. This benefits students because local food sourcing can promote food safety and create a more self-sufficient system for domestic product and economy.

During the most recent fiscal year—April 2021 to May 2022—42 per cent of university food purchases was sourced within 500 km, which is a 12 per cent increase from the minimum requirement 67 per cent was sourced within Canada, the University said.

Price changes on the global market can result in price spikes, which creates economic volatility when trying to secure food for a large institution such as Queen’s. Therefore, it’s important to emphasize food sourcing not simply for the sake of affordability in the short-term, but also in the long-term.

Hospitality Services mentioned their desire to increase food sourcing from hyperlocal producers within 100 km of campus. They pointed out the campus apiary near Richardson Stadium and their ability to harvest honey locally as an example of these efforts.

They also highlighted the importance of food rescuing and the reduction of waste in the community. In an effort to mitigate food waste locally they collect, package, and distribute untouched food and give it to Soul Food, PEACH Market, and Lionhearts.

These services are dedicated “to serving a vulnerable and growing population of people experiencing food insecurity,” Hospitality Services said.

Leilani Pearson, ArtSci ’24, spoke to her knowledge of PEACH and her friends’ volunteer experience with them.

PEACH stands for Providing Equal Access, Changing Hunger, and is run under the AMS Food Bank. It works in partnership with Student Affairs to help people with food insecurity on campus. They list equality, inclusivity, dignity and sustainability as the key values to create an inclusive space on campus.

Pearson said she doesn’t think campus food is overly expensive, but it can remain unaffordable to some students who don’t have a job or need financial assistance.

PEACH works on a sliding scale, with a suggested price list to provide students with healthy food options without making them feel like they’re taking charity from others. On their website, they say the food is “packaged and sold at an accessible cost.”

“We’re heading in the right direction. Especially, if it was food that might end up going to waste anyway,” Pearson said.

She said initiatives like this are areas where on-campus dining can be accessible and affordable, because it can be tricky to budget and “survive each semester.”

Pearson said her favourite place to eat on campus is Common Ground (CoGro) because she enjoys the café environment and tends to study best with food. When school picks up and she isn’t being productive, she’s able to “splurge” five dollars on a coffee.

“But like definitely not an all the time thing,” she added.

The Journal also spoke to Amina Alieyski, Comm ’25, who said her favourite place to eat was CoGro.

 She believes places like CoGro and the Tearoom are more appealing to students than the campus Starbucks because they’re run by students, with a greater understanding of student priorities. Both are separate from Hospitality Services; CoGro is run by the AMS, and the Tearoom is run by the Engineering Society (EngSoc).

 The Tearoom specifically advertises sustainability, environmental responsibility, and education as its three pillars. Both cafés are located on campus and promote a zero-waste policy that states anything packaged or sold will be eaten or returned to the Earth, garbage free. They also encourage people to bring reusable cups and mugs to reduce the use of plastic cups.

 Alieyski emphasized the milk alternatives, vegetarian options, and bagels as key reasons for why she prefers CoGro over the restaurants offered by Hospitality Services.

 In an interview with The Journal, Robert Howden, MSc ’24, remarked on his frequent visits to CoGro and its ability to foster a good working environment. He also praised the bagels and how the space “just helps me study.”

 Howden touched on his experience with campus dining since the beginning of his undergraduate studies in 2018.

When Howden first ate at a campus dining hall, Sodexo was Queen’s primary food provider. It was officially chosen in 2010, after out-competing three other applicants including Aramark, Brown’s Fine Foods, and Charwell’s.

Aramark replaced Sodexo in 2020, and has been in charge of dining for a little over two years. The contract with Aramark was a contentious topic due to charges against them concerning food production at private and public correctional facilities in the U.S. Michigan prisons were reportedly serving food infested with rats and maggots, condoning the lack of hygiene and sanitary handling of Aramark food.

On June 1, The Link, Concordia University’s newspaper, published an article titled “Concordia renews contract with notorious prison food provider,” which touched on their concerns with Aramark’s sanitary and hygiene conditions. There were photos of students with moldy bread, uncooked chicken, and hair in their food as examples of poor food quality and unsafe conditions.

The article also cited concerns on the sustainability of Aramark’s food coursing and their choice to pick cheaper low-grade products.

This reputation for unsafe food handling and lack of sustainability does not align with the statement Queen’s and Aramark provided The Journal and puts into the question the quality of the food.

 When asked if they enjoyed both the dining hall and restaurants on campus, Howden, Pearson and Alieskyi gave differing opinions.

 “A lot of the options can get quite repetitive after a while. Yeah, so just not a lot of variation,” Howden said.

He said Queen’s food options lack cultural diversity and recommended they try to expand towards other meal combinations.

“It’s very much like Western American Canadian style restaurants, which is fine. It’s what I would expect from a Canadian university. In terms of the dining hall experience it’s very much similar.”

“They’re trying to look for the best bang for your buck. And you’re not going to do that if you’re trying to have a super diverse experience.”

He acknowledged the financial and administrative difficulty of establishing a new restaurant at Queen’s, but suggested Indian, Japanese or Korean restaurants as areas students might be interested in because they’re more common here in Canada.

Howden also explained the steps he took with Hospitality Services due to his nut allergy.

“I went and met with some of the head chefs on the first or second day I was on campus and they gave me a walkthrough on what I can and can’t eat.”

He was impressed with their service, finding it easily accessible when dealing with his dietary restrictions at a new school. He was able to contact Hospitality Services quickly because they have a direct line of contact with multiple numbers he could use.

“I think in terms of priority it’s second or third—it’s not something at the forefront of their minds all the time,” he said. “I think it’s more towards benefitting the institution itself because if it looks prettier you can get more students, get more applications, and get more money.”

Overall, he said Queen’s dining “served its purpose.”

“You get a full meal, especially if you go to like Lazy or something like that, you’ll get your money’s worth.”

Alieyski explained how the University was successful at accommodating her dietary restriction to pork because the food was labeled as Halal. However, she had to double check if something was vegetarian because it wasn’t always labelled. This was most common in foods with dressings or condiments, like Caesar salad, because these foods tend to have traces of animal products in them.

“As a vegetarian, I wouldn’t really recommend dining hall food that much.”

She preferred to eat at the restaurants instead of at the dining hall because the meals were personalized to the individual costumer. Overall, she said Queen’s dining hall food was “a lot of food,” but the quality “wasn’t at its peak.”

Hospitality Services and Aramark are taking steps towards sustainable food sourcing and quality food service, but students still say they’re trailing behind student-run restaurants and cafés like CoGro and the Tearoom.

Of the four students The Journal interviewed, three of them highlighted a lack of culturally diverse foods and general variety in regard to meal options. They agreed that while Hospitality Services and Aramark are providing adequate food for the student body, it’s not a service to boast about.

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