It ended before it really began.
Eleven days after the KSU called a boycott on the Sodexo canteen, and before the first muffin had even been sold, it was over. Sodexo agreed to hand over control of the canteen to students, making an exception in their exclusive right to sell food on campus. And with the end of the boycott, the campaign to reform Sodexo’s contract begins.
The KSU’s most recent discontent with Sodexo started with The Watch. Our February issue quoted Zona Roberts, who worked at the canteen in the Wardroom, saying about Sodexo: “You’d think after 10 years that they’d be paying me more.” In the spring, Sodexo decided to move Zona from the canteen to the kitchen. It was then that Gabe Hoogers, president of the KSU, says he started to hear from students who were unhappy about Zona’s relocation. As he explained in the letter the KSU would later send to Sodexo, Hoogers believed that the move was punishment for Zona’s complaint.
“The story is that Sodexo, in an effort to try to ensure that multiple staff know how to operate the canteen, decided to move Zona to the kitchen,” Hoogers said. “Now… just talking to her for just one second you know that that’s not the job she ever wanted to do. That’s not the job that she’s done for the last eleven years… They wanted to remove her from that which she loves.”
But Zona’s treatment was not the only source of the KSU’s complaints. Hoogers and other students, including KSU External VP Omri Haiven, felt not enough had been done to get “ethical and sustainable” food to students, and to accommodate those with dietary restrictions. By the late summer, Hoogers, Haiven, David Etherington, Asher Goldstein, Bethany Hindmarsh, Wesley Petite and other veterans of King’s politics were discussing what to do.
On August 29, just as many students were arriving back in Halifax, Hoogers sent out a letter announcing a boycott of the Sodexo canteen. In an open letter to Sodexo’s regional manager Anne McFetridge, he said King’s students were dissatisfied with the way food was delivered to King’s and that Zona’s relocation was disrupting “strong personal bonds” that students had formed with the Sodexo staff. Hoogers said that Celine Beland, local manager of food services at King’s, was doing “a fantastic job… considering her resources,” but pointed the finger at Sodexo’s “rigid corporate structure” as the source of the KSU’s complaints. He urged students to boycott the canteen until the problems could be resolved.
Meanwhile, the canteen in question still had not opened after its summer break. While Sodexo served some coffee in Prince Hall, the corner of the Wardroom remained bare besides some unused lumber, a paint pot, and a few scraps of metal.
After Hoogers sent the boycott letter, King’s President Anne Leavitt quickly arranged a meeting with Hoogers, Haiven, Beland and Dean Nicholas Hatt. Leavitt and Hatt had already been discussing the creation of a food advisory panel for the university. Even though she had only become president in August, she was aware of the controversy surrounding Sodexo and Zona. At that first meeting, however, Leavitt felt that the boycotters did not have a clear plan of action.
“I really didn’t at all understand what was motivating the student union… and at the end of that meeting I said, ‘Well, what are your objectives in the boycott? Namely, what would it take to bring the boycott to and end?’” Leavitt said. She sent the KSU leaders to think up a clearer plan.
But before she could call the next meeting, the KSU took the boycott a step further. In the face of a contract with the university that guarantees Sodexo exclusive rights to food sales on campus, on September 8th the KSU asked Zona to sell coffee out of their office. They also accepted donations to cover the cost. Hoogers and Haiven both know that this violated Sodexo’s contract. At “Zona’s Canteen,” the KSU collected signatures on two demands: that a panel be set up to oversee food services at King’s, and that the operation of the canteen be handed over to students.
A meeting with the president was immediately scheduled for the next day.
On the 9th, a Friday, the same five people who had met a week earlier met again. Leavitt and Beland quickly agreed to the two demands, and by that afternoon Hoogers held in his hands a letter from the president promising support on both. The administration would form an advisory committee to deal with food services at King’s. Further, the KSU would be allowed to take over the canteen as soon as the board of governors approves a student-written business plan. That night, Hoogers told King’s students the boycott was over.
The boycott ended so quickly because there was very little resistance to either of the KSU demands. The creation of an advisory board on food services was already on Dr. Leavitt’s desk. As for the canteen, Leavitt suggests that Sodexo had very little stake in it anyway. It was an “add on service” that never made much money. Celine Beland, after a meeting with her manager Anne McFetridge, decided not to comment on the agreement except to offer support for the KSU.
The future of food at King’s
Now that the boycott is over, three things will happen.
The administration will form the Food Advisory Committee. Its job will be to advise the administration on food services, and on the renegotiation of Sodexo’s contract.
Meanwhile, the KSU will form the similarly named Food Advocacy Committee (it is simply called the “canteen committee” inside the KSU office). This committee will lobby the Advisory Committee and the administration for the KSU’s interests, as well as supplying three student representatives. One of those representatives will be Anna Dubinski, student life vice president. The other two have yet to be chosen.
Third, someone will have to come up with a business plan for the Wardroom canteen. Omri Haiven says that the KSU is looking into a variety of models: the new canteen could be an independent collective like the King’s bookstore, or could be run by the Wardroom, or directly by the KSU. Haiven says he has spoken to business students at SMU and Dalhousie, as well as Just Us coffee and non-profit Local Food Plus about supplying food or helping shape the new model. Start-up funds could come from the KSU, but a referendum on a student levy is still on the table.
It is likely that the new canteen, whatever it is, will be strongly influenced by the KAFCA, the King’s Alternative Food Co-op Association. KAFCA has fingers in all pies. Omri Haiven, the KSU external vice president, is a member. Gabe Hoogers, KSU president, says that the KSU has a close relationship with the people who run KAFCA. JD Hutton, KAFCA’s spokesperson, said that one member of his organization would be represented on the administration’s Food Advisory Committee.
And then will come the lobbying.
In 2013, Sodexo must renew its contract with the administration. While only the board of governors will see the full contract—some of which is now secret—that will be the opportunity for real change in how King’s gets its food. Haiven says the KSU has to confer with students before designing its objectives, a process that will start as soon as this week. Priorities will likely include more local food, and more attention to dietary restraints like vegetarianism. Hoogers says that the key will be pressuring the administration to negotiate, not Sodexo.
“(Sodexo is) a multinational corporation that doesn’t necessarily care what students at King’s want and doesn’t really care about this whole boycott. But the administration does,” he said.
KAFCA is clearer on its objectives. Hutton says that KAFCA will push for local, sustainable and healthy food, as well as more vegetarian and vegan food, and “culturally appropriate” foods like kosher and halal options.
It ended before it really began.