Ottawa students boycott Chartwells

OTTAWA (CUP) — In an attempt to demonstrate their dissatisfaction with the Chartwells food services at the University of Ottawa, students organized an “Anything But Chartwells Day” in late February.

The initiative called for students to boycott all Chartwells-run campus food establishments on February 22. Chartwells is a division of Compass Group Canada, part of the world’s largest contract food service company, and controls the vast majority of food services on the University of Ottawa campus.

The boycott gained momentum on the Facebook group “I bet I can find 36,244 students at uOttawa who hate the Café,” which currently has over 2,000 members.

Shaughnessy O’Reilly was one of the organizers behind Anything But Chartwells Day, and he explained his desire to see an improvement from the University of Ottawa’s Food Services department.

“I’d just like for them to know that the majority of students are not happy with the food services on campus, and maybe the boycott will put more pressure (on) them to listen to us and make some necessary changes a bit faster,” said O’Reilly. 

In an attempt to encourage people to avoid purchasing Chartwells products, students were invited to join the People’s Republic of Delicious (PRD), a vegan-friendly food collective based at the U of O, for a free meal in the school’s student centre on Monday, Feb. 22. The PRD also offers free breakfast on Thursday mornings on campus.

The collective “has always stood against corporate food on campus,” said PRD member Victoria Benjamin in an email. “We wanted to provide alternatives for students from the cafeteria in order to facilitate the boycott.”

Patrick Genest, manager of the University of Ottawa’s Food Services, said that there are other avenues for students to voice their concerns and criticisms.

“On our website, we have a ‘Let’s Talk’ box where (students) can voice their comments directly to us,” said Genest.

Genest is also taking proactive measures to gauge student opinions.

“I read the Facebook page on a regular basis, and I take the comments from that page. We see where the bulk of the problems are coming from and we’re going to work on that.”

However, the mass support for  Anything But Chartwells Day is a testament to the level of student frustration with food services on campus.

“We’re also encouraging students to send an email to the (school’s administration) and the people at Food Services,” said O’Reilly. “I really think the food is of such poor quality, the boycott was the best way to send the message.”

O’Reilly doesn’t want to see the efforts end with the boycott. When asked about the future of the anti-Chartwells movement, O’Reilly explained his plans to use the Facebook group as an organizing platform.

“I’m going to call for a meeting on the Facebook (group) soon, and we’ll decide where to go from there,” he said.

According to O’Reilly, Anything But Chartwells Day is gradually gaining popularity on campuses nationwide.

“I’ve talked with a bunch of people on Facebook who have Chartwells on their campus as well, and it seems to be a nationwide issue — lots of people in B.C. and Toronto have said they want to do something similar,” he said.

While it is not clear how widespread the anti-Chartwells movement is, it seems the PRD is on board to take the activism to the next level, according to Benjamin.

“It was a great opportunity to discuss why students feel disillusioned with Chartwells as well as brainstorm ideas on where this movement can go next,” she said.

// Amira Elmi
the Fulcrum

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