When Teaching Assistant and member of University of Ottawa’s branch of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE 2626), Mwali Muray, reached out to us to inform us that food options were limited to three vending machines on Lees Hall since the summer term had begun, we were not surprised. She was not the first student worker to complain of lack of healthy food options in the isolated building over the summer.
Located at 200 Lees Ave., the stand alone building is a 25 minute walk from CUPE 2626 located in the University Centre, right in the heart of the U of O campus, where Pivik, Boulangerie Première Moisson, and Café Nostalgica are but a few minutes away. These eateries, among others on the main campus of the University of Ottawa, are open all summer long.
“I first started a contract as a teaching assistant on the Lees campus in May 2018,” explains Muray. “I was surprised to find that the campus has very limited options in terms of nourishment for students, staff, and faculties. Go Café is currently closed, such that there are not options for rapid access to coffee, healthy meals or healthy snacks for those who may need them.”
As Muray explains, lack of summer resources is something that long-time faculty and staff has grown used to, but which makes very little sense to newcomers. “Students have classes and labs on that campus during both spring and summer. Faculty and staff are stationed there all year round. The Lees campus also has a gym and sports teams that are active on site. While the Lees campus is not as popular or large as the main university campus, it would make sense to provide staffing at the Go Café for individuals to be able to obtain convenient food services when at the Lees campus.”
“While we can all get desperate, vending machines are not first choice options for healthy meals,” explains Muray. “We have access to soft drinks, energy drinks, chips, and chocolate bars. Options available at the Go Café are more nourishing and sustaining for the day ahead. As such, students who do find themselves wanting healthier options must find them elsewhere, as the university does not provide many options for wholesome nourishment during the summer.”
CUPE 2626 visited the campus last week in search of food that didn’t come from a machine and indeed, there was nothing on campus. A short walk up Lees Avenue toward the canal, however, we found three fast-food chains that were open, Giant Panda, a fast-food restaurant and a dépanneur.
When asked about these options, Muray said she knew them. “I am aware that they are currently the only close by alternatives for our students, faculty, and staff during the summer. These are not necessarily healthy options, convenient options, nor financially sustainable options. I also question why the university would draw students, staff, and faculties to leave campus for food options, when they have the amenities to nourish them, but simply choose not to during certain months of the year? While food from a dépanneur can be fast, the pickings are about as healthy as the campus vending machine selection.”
Muray would like the University of Ottawa to support healthy lifestyles for the students and workers on Less campus by opening up Go Café over the summer months. “As the University website says so clearly, ‘the University of Ottawa is the largest bilingual (English-French) university in the world, located at the heart of Canada’s capital.’” Explains Muray. “With such a great reputation to upkeep, the university should cover basics, such as providing food services on its campuses year round, rather than sending its own students, faculty, and staff roaming and searching in lack of sustenance and nourishment, in the name of summer hours and summer savings.”