By Madi Wong
In order to alleviate food insecurity on campus, the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) is hoping to serve up a $5 food menu at the Ram in the Rye.
The campus pub’s cheap menu will include appetizers and half-sized entrees for $5, according to RSU President Ram Ganesh. The exact dishes have yet to be decided.
During his slate’s campaign last year, Ganesh said his team narrowed down the three main issues students face: being broke, being hungry and being tired—sometimes all at the same time.
“We looked at food prices on our campus and other campuses and said, ‘We have to deal with this.’ It’s hard to find healthy food downtown Toronto for an affordable price,” he said.
“We want to execute different initiatives to deal with [food] insecurity on campus and I think this is the first step, getting the $5 menu started and using the Good Food Centre and the platform we have there.”
Food insecurity on campus
Meal Exchange is a nationally registered charity that does food security and sustainability work on campuses across the country, including at Ryerson.
Over the past eight months, the Students Feeding Change (SFC) project, put on by Meal Exchange, has engaged the Good Food Centre and the RSU in workshops that give a better understanding on food insecurity.
Jaimie White, the SFC coordinator for Meal Exchange said the project will hold a social innovation lab process involving campus stakeholders from all levels of the campus system. This process will, “Identify campus-specific barriers to food insecurity and areas for opportunity to intervene,” she said.
‘Hungry for Knowledge’, a report published by Meal Exchange in 2016, found two in five students experience some form of food insecurity and that eight per cent of students experience severe food insecurity, which is triple the national household average rate.
White said Meal Exchange has learned that student food insecurity shows itself in many areas on campus.
“We’ve heard from faculty that students are struggling with their academics due to food insecurity, we’ve heard from staff that student food insecurity comes up in their various departments and from students, we’ve heard that food security is a pressing issue in working towards equity on campus,” White said.
White said it’s great the RSU has made this a priority but hopes the menu will offer food that is nutritious and can meet any dietary needs or restrictions. She also hopes there will be culturally diverse food options to reflect the various cultural backgrounds of students.
“‘Food security’ is much more than the amount of food students are eating, it’s also about having a dignified access to food,” White said.
Amanda Jekums, who earned a certificate in food security studies at Ryerson’s Chang School, said that although everybody loves cheap food, a $5 food menu is not going to solve food insecurity on campus.
“Food security means having a reliable access to affordable and nutritious food. Eating from a $5 bar menu is probably not going to be that nutritious and wouldn’t actually be that affordable in the long run,” she said.
Jekums said that the RSU could look for other innovative ways to improve access to nutritious and affordable food on campus such as providing a space for students to cook food.
“The root cause of food insecurity in Canada is poverty, and high tuition costs make poverty a reality for many students,” she said.
Dora Jude, a fourth-year food and nutrition student, said the menu is a positive step in the right direction. However, like Jekums, she said there is still more to be done.
“Food insecurity is a big issue on campus because with tuition on the rise, people already have enough trouble deciding between purchasing books, paying rent and buying food,” said Jude.
Jude, who doubles as the president of Ryerson Students for Food Security, said initiatives like providing workshops on how to make cheap and healthy food, and how to budget when grocery shopping would be beneficial as well.
Recalling her unappetizing cafeteria lunches in high-school, Jude said she hopes the menu includes fresh, flavourful entrées with good fruits and vegetables.
In addition to the menu being appetizing, Madison Henry, a second-year urban and regional planning student, said that there should be a priority in ensuring the menu contains healthy options, such as salads, sandwiches and other things rich in protein.
“If I only eat junk food then I’m going to feel bad and I’m not going to be productive and do well in class. Usually inexpensive food is really unhealthy so hopefully the plan includes healthy options,” Henry said.
Getting a taste of the new menu
As for when Ryerson can expect the new menu, Ganesh said the RSU and Board of Directors will be meeting this month and again in October to discuss their options.
According to Ganesh, these meetings will be about evaluating the chef’s feasibility report and work plan. They will decide whether or not the Ram in the Rye and the Oakham Cafe’s kitchen can handle the workload. As well as how the profit margins of costs versus revenue would potentially look like if the $5 menu was to go through.
The RSU will also see what menu ideas the chef comes back with after having given some instruction on how to make the food appealing to the student body.
“Hopefully by mid-October we’ll have a more concrete roll-out plan. And if everybody’s in accordance with the plan, we’ll vote on it. And right before exams students will get a taste of the new menu,” Ganesh said.