By Al Downham
A farewell party was held Dec. 2 for Ryerson chef Joshna Maharaj, a staple figure in raising the quality of on-campus food.
Maharaj — leaving her position as executive chef and assistant director of Ryerson Food Services — was commended for advocating sustainable food on-campus and thanked others for their support. She took the position in 2013.
During her stay, Maharaj specifically promoted organic food from local vendors. She assisted in renovating The Hub — a Jorgenson Hall cafeteria — creating a weekly Farmers’ Market and an urban farm. Food variety also increased on menus with added vegan, halal and other specialty dishes.
According to vice-president administration and finance Janice Winton, 25 per cent of food presently purchased at Ryerson is sustainable and local with 8,000 pounds of it produced on the urban farm.
“We’ve really transformed food at Ryerson,” Winton says.
Maharaj says purchasing sustainable food also offers superior taste and nutrition.
“Previously, food was the status-quo,” said Maharaj. “It was reflective of the industrial-food-system and massive feeding without thought to students eating it.”
The same month Maharaj took her position, Chartwells — an international food service provider — replaced Aramark, another provider whose food costs and quality sparked student outrage. Chartwells partners with Ryerson to manage campus food services.
“Especially recently, [food sustainability] has been a strong focus point for many in the higher education sector,” Chartwells general manager Edwin Brunink said. “But Joshna brought it to the next level.”
Maharaj says she tried to “wean” Ryerson cooks off the old food system. Ryerson Eats communications and administrative coordinator Melissa Yu said the school will continue to make their menu more financially accessible after Maharaj leaves.
“With sustainable food, as much as students care, it’s difficult because students are on fixed budgets,” said Yu, noting “Daily Friendly Fiver” meals are offered everyday for $5 at Pitman hall, the International Living Learning Centre [ILLC] cafe and The Hub. “It’s providing something better while giving our staff a living wage so it’s balancing those elements at the same time.”
The school is currently looking to hire a new director to oversee food operations.