On September 16th, the King’s Alternative Food Co-operative Association (KAFCA) missed a regular Friday meal. The Alexandra Hall residence Manning Room, where their food servings normally take place, was unusually quiet. The Day Bay kitchen in which they transform locally grown food into Sodexo alternative meals was empty.
KAFCA’s food production activities screeched to a halt Sept. 14 following a visit from a representative from the Nova Scotia’s Department of Agriculture. Rosemary Arsenault, the Central Regional Manager of the Department’s Food Safety section, was pursuing an anonymous complaint she received regarding KAFCA “preparing and serving and selling food on campus” as well as “not producing that food in a permitted facility,” she said.
The weekly “Cook-Ins” and “Eat-Ins” come with a suggested donation of $2. The society has also advertised itself on its blog and Facebook page as an alternative caterer to Sodexo for other societies’ events. The group is paid to cater, typically with money funded by the King’s Students’ Union.
After investigating KAFCA’s operations both on and off campus, Arsenault informed President Anne Leavitt and Dean of Residence Nicholas Hatt that they were not complying with provincial regulations. Leavitt delivered the news to KAFCA that evening in an email, insisting that the society “cease from its food preparation and/or distribution activities on the King’s campus.” A meeting involving Hatt, KAFCA President David Etherington and Internal Coordinator JD Hutton the next day reaffirmed this ban.
The news shocked KAFCA members who, despite being aware of the Department of Agriculture regulations, never thought these rules would be applicable to their not-for-profit society: “We’ve never really viewed ourselves as a business; we’ve just viewed ourselves as giving food to society events,” said Hutton. “When you have people at a gathering for, say, any old society at King’s, do you have to apply for a food serving permit? No. That’s ridiculous, and we see ourselves in the same league.”
The Department of Agriculture does not see things this way, says Arsenault. She says that all food service operations at institutions, including schools, must comply with the Nova Scotia Food Retail & Food Services Code. But the applicability of the provincial regulations in this case is fuzzy; the Code does not apply to exemptions stated in the Nova Scotia Food Safety Regulations, one of which is food prepared and served by not-for-profit organizations for functions or gatherings. Though the group thought they fell under that category, Arsenault’s evaluation is KAFCA is just another food provider selling goods to other campus societies.
To renew food preparation and distribution, the Department of Agriculture would have to review and approve all of KAFCA’s activities, explains Arsenault. The society would be required to use a permitted kitchen that is regularly inspected by the Department’s Food Safety section. At least one member of KAFCA with a food handling course accreditation would have to be on site during each meal preparation.
Continuing their activities without the proper licensing could have grave consequences, as Leavitt emphasized in her email. The school could face penalties, fines and liability concerns not covered by the school’s insurance policies. In an interview, Leavitt mentioned Arsenault’s authority under provincial legislation to seize food with the aid of the police at any time. “My position as president of the university is simply that we can’t allow the distribution and preparation of food that the province would consider to be in violation of its regulations,” she said.
Nor can these services be advertised. Leavitt’s email asked that “all reference to KAFCA’s unauthorized activities at King’s” be removed from their blog and Facebook page, all of which have now been erased. Hutton does not take issue with this request seeing as KAFCA is a “student sovereignty group”, not a catering business. “On the other hand,” he adds, “there have been requests to change some of our political messaging, which will not be happening.”
Hutton wouldn’t speak to the nature of these requests, and Leavitt denies she made any such demands. “In my letter, I said I quite respect and appreciate the aims of the group.” Still, she asked that KAFCA’s mission as seen on Facebook, “To provide excellent quality, alternative food choices to the King’s community and beyond,” be taken down. A similar mission stated on their blog remains.
Hutton is confident that this bump in the road will not harm his society in the long run. “The main focus of KAFCA is to promote the idea of alternative, sustainable, ethical foods,” he says—a mandate which can be fulfilled with or without the literal creation of these alternatives.