King's students take issue with food contracts

Student societies want clarification on how they can serve food from off-campus sources.

Alternative food coop member enjoys some vegetarian chili. Photo: Adam Miller

A group of King's students has launched an alternative food cooperative in an effort to provide a local alternative to the on-campus food service provider Sodexo.

The King's Alternative Food Cooperative Association held its first official lunchtime distribution Thursday, serving locally sourced vegetarian chili from a residence hall on campus.

"There was no viable food alternative on campus, and what food there was was done through a corporate system that didn't seem to represent King's or King's students, in terms of the imagination and the difference that King's represents...and of course, for all the political reasons, like having sovereignty over our own food sources, going local, not supporting corporations," first-year King's student and group founder Omri Haiven said.

But at the group's first attempt to give out food in the campus bar earlier this month, they were asked by Sodexo staff member to distribute elsewhere in the future. They have relocated to a space in one of the residence halls.

Sodexo holds an exclusive contract on food sales at King's, and any alternative food provider is in potential violation of the contract that the university has with Sodexo.

Although Haiven has voiced no objection to the move, King's Student Union president David Etherington takes issue with the classified nature of the Sodexo-King's contract.

"One thing that's really frustrating about the situation with the contract is that it's been really difficult to sort of look at it or review it. So it's difficult to tell how the exclusivity contract works...I think there's a lot of confusion."

Etherington said student societies have received mixed messages from Sodexo and from the administration. He has been told that selling alternate food during hours when Sodexo is not selling is permitted, yet he says Sodexo has denied requests by student societies to order outside food for evening society events on campus.

Celine Beland, account director for Sodexo at King's, said that food can be given out for free by private individuals on campus without violating the Sodexo contract.

"If you want to share a meal between friends, that's your business, that's not my business," Beland said.

She does, however, expect students to run plans for food distribution by her, for the purposes of conserving food safety practices.

While Sodexo takes issue with the selling of food by alternate groups, Beland says she often deals with small-scale alternative food sales on a case-by-case basis. She says she often gives the go-ahead to groups who approach her regarding fundraisers, or ordering pizza from outside sources.

Etherington wants the Sodexo contract to be opened up for examination by executive members of the student union, in order to evaluate it before it is up for review in 2013.

Haiven confirmed that he has received support to serve food from several professors affiliated with the group, as well as from the King's Dean of Residence Nick Hatt.

Contract must be classified: administration

King's President William Barker said the contract is classified to protect Sodexo from other food service competitors.

"They'll never de-classify it...It's like any other contract we have with a third-party organization. Normally, the people who ask to see the contracts are other third-party organizations who would like to bid against the organization (Sodexo), and if you start handing these out, people won't come to you with bids afterwards."

He said he had not heard anything about a request to open the contract up for examination.

Sodexo Canada Response

Jon Kristjanson, senior vice-president of corporate development and marketing for Sodexo Canada, said it is common practice for food service companies to have exclusivity contracts, in order to, "offer the best financial value to key stakeholders including the customers, the institution and the caterer," and to protect the university from liability issues, with respect to food safety practices.

Kristjanson suggested that students wishing to influence food service policy on campus meet directly with Sodexo to present their recommendations for change.

"Food that is not purchased, prepared and served by the institution's chosen contractor... creates a risk that most institutions are not willing to accept. There are exceptions whereby working closely with the campus administration and the food services provider in some situations can be organized with ‘free food,' like showcasing a local farmer or producer."

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