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Student leaders label compulsory meal plans a cash grab

Myriam Hugron and Patrick Genest. Photo: Nadia Drissi El-Bouzaidi

The University of Ottawa’s Food Services is set to open a new buffet-style 24/7 dining hall, but student groups are concerned about the mandatory meal plans that, as of September 2015, first-year students living in all residences except Brooks, Hyman-Soloway, and the new Henderson residence will have to purchase.

Negotiations concerning the Friel residence are ongoing.

Both the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO) and the Residents’ Association of the University of Ottawa (RAUO) have voiced their opposition to the mandatory meal plans as a means of paying for renovations.

RAUO president Gabrielle Read said first-year students in residence “should not be the ones on which the financing for the new dining hall is relied upon.”

SFUO president Anne-Marie Roy denounced the university for funding the new dining hall “on the backs of the students.” She said she was “frustrated” by negotiations, because she feels the decisions had already been made.

“I also find it incredibly disrespectful to the students in the Friel residence that they would be forced to pay into a mandatory meal plan that’s not necessarily going to be fairly accessible,” said Roy. “Forcing students to eat in a dining hall that’s 12 blocks away from their homes is, in my opinion, absurd.”

The university will pay for 20 to 25 per cent of the renovation costs and Food Services revenue will cover the rest of the bill, according to representatives.

“All profits are reinvested into Food Services,” said Patrick Genest, director of Food Services, who added that the new system will be more cost-effective for students.

A major change of the meal plan program is that students with meal plans will have unlimited access, “so you can go two times a day, you can go 10 times a day if you want,” said Genest. Currently students must buy all items individually from the dining hall at a set price.

“Already about 60 per cent of students buy meal plans,” he said, and if they don’t want to, “students do have the choice of changing from one residence to another.”

Construction has already begun on the dining hall and jazzy restaurant, but disruptions will be minimal, with the bulk of the work being completed during the summer months, said Genest.

“It’s not about creating just a dining space, it’s about creating a social living hub where people can sit and study,” Genest said of the new 650-seat facility.

The dining hall will also do away with disposal plates and utensils in favour of reusable dishes, much like the new Rideau Centre eatery opened this past summer.

“We’re getting rid of 95 per cent of our waste,” said Myriam Hugron, a marketing, communications, and special projects officer at Food Services.

Students will have a choice of a $3,400 five-day meal plan from Monday to Friday or Sunday to Thursday, which comes with $100 flex dollars. Students can opt to pay more for a seven-day plan. Food Services will also offer block plans of 25, 50, or 75 meals, with a lower price per meal the more one buys.

Genest said his team is “currently exploring” kosher and halal options to offer to students.

Last year, several student groups asked Food Services to ban Sabra hummus products because of connections with the Israeli Defence Forces. “Sabra Hummus will continue to be sold on campus, but not in the new dining hall since we will not provide pre-packaged products in that location,” said Genest.

The specific details of the new meal plans will be released in the coming weeks, said Hugron, along with previews of the new facility.

Negotiations on the Friel meal plan are expected to be finalized by early February.