Behind the scenes of the food changes happening on campus.

Photo by Andrea Marie Tan
Photo by Andrea Marie Tan

If you didn’t know, the food services on campus have changed. From wholesome, healthy food, to self-managed UBC restaurants, the dining experience on campus has completely turned over its head.

For a long time, food services on campus that were not operated by the Student’s Union (the Well, Green Bean, amongst others) were part of Aramark, a third-party operator. Apart from an observed lack of passion for serving food, Aramark’s goal was to make profit. In lieu of that, they sacrificed food quality and safety. Most of the food students were served before was packaged, processed, and/or frozen. A change needed to happen.

According to Gary Hartung, Associate Director of Food Services, there were talks about the viability of the university taking over food services five years ago. However, he states the university was “not quite there yet in terms of size to make it economically viable.”

Aramark continued to operate until July 1, 2019, when UBCO took over. With an incoming class of over 2900 students and 10,000 students in total, it was finally possible for UBCO to self-manage its food services.

“Using a third-party operator does not align with the UBC values,” said Hartung. After all, their number one priority is money, whereas, claimed Hartung, “as university food services, our number one thing is not to make money.”

Photo by Andrea Marie Tan
Photo by Andrea Marie Tan

Registered dietitian and UBCO Manager of Nutrition and Well-Being, Julie Stachiw, claimed that the renovated department for food services lives by the Food Vision & Values. Taken up by both UBC campuses as part of the 2015 Okanagan Charter on health and well-being, the food vision & values makes sure that the food services provided to students are sustainable, local, transparent, and safe.

This undertaking did not start from absolute scratch. UBC Vancouver has been self-operating food services for a while now, and were very interested in UBC Okanagan doing the same. With their support and insight, the Student Housing and Hospitality Food Services department started to make big changes. These changes are not only about food quality, but they are also about the whole platform for food services.

Something that Hartung, Stachiw, and even executive chef Shelley Robinson addressed, was the fact that staffing is now completely under the jurisdiction of the university. The staff at Sunshine, Comma, and Picnic, are all UBC staff who are guaranteed a livable wage, benefits, being part of a union, but most of all, being part of the university.

UBCO wanted to support the community it is a part of while taking advantage of the richness of the valley we are situated on. Food Services gets most of their products from local, sustainable, and fair-trade businesses. Almost everything is made from scratch and in-house, including the baking. Chef Robinson said that they hired bakers for the first time, so almost every pastry in university is fresh.

Gluten-free and vegan options, like the doughnuts at Comma, come from local bakeries like Jaide and Joel’s. Other partnerships are also in the works.

Photo by Andrea Marie Tan
Photo by Andrea Marie Tan

Food Services’ goal, according to Stachiw, is to “provide healthy, affordable, and delicious food.” Even her job, Manager of Nutrition and Well-being, is new to this campus.

Furthermore, food services has opened up a whole new platform that is extremely receptive to student’s feedback. On their website, students can submit their feedback under Spill the Beans. Students can also email Julie about any food-related concerns they may have under the section Ask your Dietitian.

Nonetheless, as with anything new and growing, there have been some challenges. Hartung spoke about the hours of operation and shared an understanding that it is a problem to have to close some stations so early. He shared that every week the university is meeting with potential staff to keep longer business hours.

Additionally, students are worried about pricing. This worries mostly new-to-UBC students considering that they have no point of reference for the calamities we suffered before. As Chef Robinson states, “good food is expensive,” and she understands, “you want to get the biggest bang for your buck.” There are five-dollar options available at every restaurant, but the truth of it is that healthy, sustainable, safe food comes at a cost, and it is nowhere near unreasonable.

As they keep working towards the best service they can provide, UBCO is committed to making food diverse, fun, comforting, but also safe and transparent. The renovated food services department seeks to educate the population on sustainable and safe food practices, so that we all have the best, healthiest relationship with food.