Talking about food services

File Photo. Popular on-campus restaurant Charley Biggs. (Holly Kalyniuk / The Quill)

The “freshman 15” is a common expression used to describe the weight put on by students during their first year of postsecondary education. The accepted belief is that students, new to being bombarded by stacks upon stacks of work, choose quick means of sustenance which are in nutrition and easy on the wallet so as to better focus on their efforts on school.But what if that isn’t the case? What if the students have little to no choice at all because the system in which they function is broken?  While a small handful of independent franchises operate on campus during weekday, daytime hours, the two main sources of food for residence students here at Brandon University remains the cafeteria and Charley Biggs’ Chicken.

Unofficially, it has always seemed to be a prevalent opinion that school food services were unsatisfactory. Complaints about hours of operation or food quality appear frequently, and the word “caf” is most often used in a disdainful manner.

The cafeteria is currently open from 7:30 am – 2:00 pm and 4:00 pm – 6:30 pm on weekdays. These hours are shortened on weekends and holidays to 11:00 am – 6:30 pm. These are only the hours during which the dining hall is physically open. Food services do not necessarily run for the entire time. Charley Biggs meanwhile is currently open from Monday to Wednesday, 12:00 pm – 9:00 pm, Thursday to Friday, 12:00 pm – 10:00 pm, and 4:30 pm – 10:00 pm on weekends.

The university’s food card costs students $1,960 per semester. Working on a dollar for dollar system, students are required to spend the entirety of the allotted money on their food card or see the remaining balance taken by the school, with no compensation.

What do the students really think? The Quill interviewed a small number of residence students to gauge their feelings on Brandon University’s food services.

The Quill: What is your opinion on the hours of operation for the food services on campus?

Katelyn Hucik, 1st year: They are awful, especially for students who have night classes like myself. Recently Charlie Biggs has closed earlier and it’s not possible to get any food after 9:00pm on campus, which can be quite a pain. So then you’re stuck ordering some kind of food and having to pay more money out of your pocket.

Mykala Rodgers, 2nd year: I definitely disagree with it not being open late. Especially when students are trying to study late. They need refreshments, they need food, that’s completely unfair. On the weekends it doesn’t open until noon, which doesn’t help people who wake up to have breakfast if they have school work or work in general.

Logan Fogg, 1st year: The hours of operation are not too bad for the most part. However, Charlie Biggs closing at nine during the week days is not convenient. I know a good amount of people who like to get a quick late night snack. But that cannot be done when Biggs closes at nine.

The Quill: How do you feel about the quality and selection of the food available to you through the various services?

KH: It’s very subpar. We are paying quite a bit of money for food that is very mediocre. The cafeteria sometimes has decent food but it’s very hit and miss. Charlie Biggs has absolutely no healthy choices, apart from a rotten salad that will cost you 15 dollars that you will most likely have to throw out half of anyway.

MR: I think the meat is sometimes completely inedible. It does not look like it can be eaten. You’re feeding people! University students that need good healthy meals! Everyone puts on the freshman 15 because all the food sucks except for the deep fried stuff which I think is unfair for someone who doesn’t like to eat crappy all the time.

The Quill: Do you feel that the food card system and its inherent guidelines are an efficient one in terms of how your money is used?

MR: I think the system is incredibly unfair because some people don’t eat as much as others. A lot of people just end up giving it all away at the end by buying other people lunch just to get rid of it. We should be able to get the rest back at the end.

KH: The food card is efficient and very handy, but the price we pay for food is ridiculous.

The Quill: How do you feel about the price of food at the university compared to food establishments found off campus?

MR: I feel like they overcharge us because they give us huge portions and most of us can’t eat it all, nor do we want to because the food isn’t very good. The food is really overpriced at Biggs as well. It’s 25 something for a small pizza and elsewhere it’s almost that much for a large!

KH: I bought a bagel and a cup of tea and it came to eight dollars.

The most common complaints are about quality, price, and the available hours, arguably the three largest factors possible. Also specifically mentioned has been the cafeteria closing halfway through what is known as traditional supper hour, causing many students to eat supper at an inconveniently early time. A lack of ability to obtain a truly late night snack on campus has repeatedly drawn the ire of students as well. That is, if students can obtain any food at all.  For instance, during an incredibly snow heavy blizzard on Thanksgiving weekend, all food services on campus were closed by 6:00 pm, which gave anyone who felt like eating during the second half of the day the options of venturing out during dangerous weather conditions or starving.  Over Christmas break, the cafeteria shut down entirely while some students still remained living on campus. Yet, it still managed to host a rather sizeable Christmas party for the staff of the school.

The dissatisfaction is abundantly clear, yet students appear to exhibit an overwhelming apathy when faced with finding a solution to a system that has refused to change for so long. What can students do when they are paying their hard-earned money to attend this institution and the administration appears to be bent on making the simple act of acquiring sustenance incredibly difficult? What should be a service provided to aid hard-working students has been twisted into a rigid, unaccommodating mess that may well show just how much the administration really cares.  Cries for change have long fallen on deaf ears and it is time the issue is addressed.

Republished from The Quill print edition, Volume 103, Issue 22, February 26, 2013