HARD TO STOMACH

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By Vanessa Santilli

Sara Santianni has had it better.

The Ryerson nutrition student feasted on sesame tuna and stir fry while earning a life sciences degree from McMaster. It’s no surprise she’s not happy with the options at the Hub. She’s not alone.

Last December, the Ryerson Student Nutrition Action Committee (RSNAC) published the results of a survey they conducted across campus to see how students felt about food services. About 49 per cent of students said Ryerson’s food was too fatty, unhealthy and there was not enough fresh food.

Registered dietitian Sandra Skrzypczyk says that students are better able to cope with the stresses of university life if they are making healthy food choices.

“People are more inclined to eat healthy if those healthy options are the easy choice,” she says. “Students don’t have a lot of time so if the food service can provide healthy, affordable options, then it’s a win-win for the students and the food service.”

In the Maclean’s annual university rankings released in November, the food services at the University of Guelph, the University of Victoria and McMaster all received top reviews. The key to bettering Ryerson’s food services just might lie in looking at what these top schools are doing right.

University of Guelph

Mark Kenny knows the food at the University of Guelph is fresh. That’s because he buys it himself. “On average, 30 per cent of our produce is local,” says Kenny, purchasing co-ordinator for hospitality services at the university. Kenny goes to a wholesale public auction in Elmira, Ont., which is about a half-hour away from Guelph. The auction operates from the end of April to the end of November.

Over the months that the auction is closed, the university has contracts with different farmers to buy winter crops. The current crops include turnips, carrots, cabbages and potatoes, which, depending on the year, last until the end of February or mid-March.

“Ryerson, you know, are they going to drive three times a week north to Guelph to pick up produce?” says Kenny. “There are companies that are getting into it more and more. Produce companies will put on their buying sheet from their regular suppliers what’s local. We do that as well as have our regular suppliers let us know what products are local.”

Displayed on Guelph’s salad bars — yes, they have salad bars — are signs every week letting students know what local foods are being offered as the selection changes weekly.

Every year, Guelph food services holds a Festival of the Fields around Thanksgiving. They serve dinners across campus that are made up of only local foods including meat, produce and breads.

John Corallo, director of ancillary services, said that Aramark purchases local products for Ryerson. But representatives from Aramark couldn’t be reached for comment.

Guelph students also have a food ombudsperson watching their backs.

“Coming here, I thought it was pretty typical (to have a food ombudsperson),” says Kailyn Fullerton, hospitality services ombudsperson at the University of Guelph. “I’m apparently one of the only ones (in Canada).”

Fullerton is the link between students and food services that ensures complaints or suggestions are forwarded to someone who can act upon them.

“It’s pretty innovative, which I actually didn’t realize when I went into it. It’s kind of neat because at other universities if you put in complaints it goes to administration, but I’m here to give it a student face. So people can see me in class and say, ‘hey, the soup wasn’t so good today’.”

University of Victoria

If you’re a vegan student at Ryerson, you’re better off munching grass in the quad. At the University of Victoria, the school embraces its students diversity.

“We had a very large population of vegetarian students so we opened a vegetarian restaurant,” says Heather Seymour, co-ordinator of food services production and purchasing.

But every food outlet has vegetarian and vegan options, she says. Salads aside, some options include vegan sushi, vegan pizza, vegetarian fajitas and roasted peppers and asiago cheese tarts.

At the University of Victoria a lot of students have celiac disease, says Seymour, and therefore have very specific dietary needs. Celiac disease is a medical condition in which the absorptive surface of the small intestine is damaged by gluten. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye and barley and is used in the production of processed and packaged foods. Those affected must follow a gluten-free diet.

On campus there is a grocery store, Village Market, where students have access to a section with gluten-free foods.

A little closer to home, nestled in the back corner of University College’s junior common room at the University of Toronto, students can find vegan options.

“Vegans Rejoice!” reads a sign posted on the glass at Diabolo’s, a small coffee shop. Soy milk, muffins, and rice krispie squares are some of the vegan options offered.

Like Ryerson, U of T’s food services provider is Aramark.

“The demand on campus for vegetarian meals is quite small,” Corallo wrote in an email. “Vegetarian and vegan options are available at most locations. If a customer does not see something they like, we ask them to speak with a manager who can address their need.”

McMaster University

The East Meets West Bistro, a campus restaurant, put McMaster University on the food services map in 2005. The bistro won the Loyal E. Horton Dining Award from the National Association for College and Universities Food Service in 2005, beating out 146 schools to receive a perfect score.

On the menu — which changes every two months — you can find options such as gluten-free pizza and grilled vegetable and tofu salad.

Each of their three menus — international, Asian and rotisserie — offer Halal and vegetarian options. “You’re only paying maybe $1 more than a regular food court but you’re getting a higher quality of food,” says Albert Ng, director of hospitality services at Mc- Master. “The bistro is a different approach to elegant casual dining.”

Ng says the restaurant can keep prices low because they removed the need of a server.

When you enter the restaurant, located in the Mary E. Keyes residence, you place your order with the host, who sends it electronically to the kitchen. The customer is then given a pager and buzzed when the food is ready. There is no waiting for the cheque or tipping.

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So how likely is it that food services at Ryerson will be able to make these changes? It seems the major stumbling block is the apathetic attitude the administration has towards bettering our food services. Sure, it’s great that RSNAC puts out a pamphlet telling students what foods are healthier than others, but this does not get to the heart of the problem — improving the food being served to students. Until those in charge can acknowledge that Ryerson is lacking in this area, don’t expect changes to happen anytime soon. Now there’s some food for thought.

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