DSU exec members Shannon Zimmerman and Doyle Bond (right) deliver their peace offering to CAF member Aaron Beale. Photo: Adam Miller

Dal food feud gets olive branch

Campus Action on Food held a meal give-away Tuesday, defying the Dalhousie Student Union's edict. But instead of security guards, they got an olive branch.

The stage was set for a clash with campus security when members of Campus Action on Food (CAF) set up shop in Dalhousie University's Student Union Building Tuesday afternoon.

But the Dalhousie Student Union brought a peace offering instead.

"I was pretty surprised," CAF spokesman Aaron Beale said after the event.

"Obviously they're pretty scared. We pose quite a threat, not necessarily directly to Sodexo but ... it's something (the DSU) can't control."

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DSU President Shannon Zimmerman watches CAF's third meal give-away get underway as she waits to deliver the union's proposal to the group. Photo: Adam Miller

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Students flock to the free food giveaway at the Dalhousie Student Union Building. Video by Adam Miller.

DSU President Shannon Zimmerman and Doyle Bond, Vice-President of Finance and Operations, hand-delivered a memo to members of CAF, offering a conditional truce to the group they had threatened to boot from the building three weeks earlier.

CAF, an arms-length affiliate of the Nova Scotia Public Interest Research Group, is opposed to the exclusive contracts held by food service providers, saying the monopoly on meals deprives students of important alternatives.

Tuesday's event, held shortly after noon, was CAF's third free meal serving held to protest and raise awareness of the issue.

At the Jan. 12 event, Zimmerman told CAF members that security would be called if they held another give-away. The events violate Sodexho's exclusive right to serve in the building, while the health and safety concerns about the food pose a potential legal problem, she said at the time.

According to the DSU's memo, "CAF will be permitted to provide its services in the DSU on a weekly trial basis between now and April 30, 2010," if they follow three conditions.

These terms require them to:

  1. become a ratified society with the DSU
  2. have their food inspected before serving, ensuring it follows provincial health codes
  3. stop handing out "propaganda ... that potentially damages the reputation and business of any service providers that the DSU currently has relations with." 

But until CAF agrees to follow these conditions, any meal give-aways they hold will still be against the rules, Zimmerman said.

"This is us trying to work with students that have concerns that they're bringing to us," she said.

Though the terms of Sodexho's exclusivity contract haven't changed, Zimmerman said the company is onboard with this "pilot project."

"Sodexho's always been willing to sit down and talk with them and we've always been encouraging that," she said.

Zimmerman said she has been exchanging emails with Beale, trying to arrange a face-to-face meeting to discuss CAF's issues with exclusivity contracts on campus.

This proposal came out of a DSU executive meeting held Monday, after they learned CAF planned to go ahead with the meal give-away, defying the union's previous edict, she said.

Though CAF's members have yet to decide whether they will agree to the proposal, Beale said he is suspicious of the attempt to "bring us into the system."

"I can see where from one perspective the terms and conditions they have might make sense, but ... they're geared to destroy what we're actually here to do," he said.

Beale said all three terms could be intended to stall or impede CAF's efforts. He said he specifically takes issue with the ratification requirement - saying it's often a lengthy process - as well as the "propaganda" ban.

"Our cause is anti-exclusivity and pro-choice, so we have pamphlets that are anti-Sodexho. So I don't know where that line is drawn."

"I see a little bit of comedy in it," he said. "They're very tactical efforts to disrupt our cause.

Included in CAF's free meal were cornbread, cabbage salad and a soup made with New Brunswick lentils. The group serves locally sourced vegan meals in protest to exclusive food contracts on campus, saying they prevent students from getting the cheaper, greener, healthier alternatives they want.

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CAF is in fact a ratified society beneath NSPIRG (the Nova Scotia Public Research Interest Group). Prior to the Tuesday serving, the group had emailed Shannon Zimmerman wanting to discuss how to confront food issues in the SUB. However, Zimmerman did not respond for over a week, and CAF was ultimately unable to sit down and come to an agreement before the serving. The DSU's letter was not a "peace offering" in that it stipulated specific conditions which for the most part interfere with CAF's goal as a group: to spread awareness on food security and inform students as to how exclusivity contracts as signed by the DSU restrict student choice and exploit students.

Posted by Gwendolyn Muir | Feb 3, 2022