By Delphine Belzile and Kendra Sharp
We need to talk about the problem with food options at the Loyola campus, or lack thereof
It’s your first day at the Loyola campus. Maybe you’re a second-year student, and you spent your entire first year of university learning from home. Maybe you’ve only ever had classes at Concordia’s downtown campus, and this is your first foray into Notre-Dame-de-Grâce (NDG). No longer used to getting out of the house in the morning, you rushed to get her to make it to your 9 a.m. lecture — no coffee, no morning bagel, and no lunch in your bag. Your first class ends and your stomach is growling. You checked Google maps for a place nearby, but realized there isn’t enough time for you to commute to grab lunch and make it back to your next class. Where do you go?
We’re back at the Loyola campus, but the food options nearby are few and far between.
As a part of Concordia’s return-to-school plan, the student cafeteria is limiting its capacity to students in residence. The on-campus Tim Hortons closed its doors once the pandemic hit and there are almost no restaurants nearby. You think there may be a student cafe somewhere on campus, but you have no idea where it is or if it even exists.
Whereas the downtown campus offers various on-site food services including Le Frigo Vert, People’s Potato and Reggies, students at Loyola have few options to rely on. And this isn’t exactly a new problem.
“Loyola campus never did have the same type of numbers or campus activity as downtown,” said Claudette Torbey, food services sustainability and quality administrator at Concordia. “It’s a calmer campus, even in pre-COVID years.”
But now the pandemic has created a new set of challenges at the Loyola campus when it comes to food. Sanitary measures, uncertainties with suppliers and the decrease in student traffic on campus are all challenges eateries are facing when trying to respond to the needs of the Loyola campus community.
The Buzz Dining Hall
You’re wandering around campus looking for a place to eat. You get lost for a minute and finally end up in front of the SP building where you notice the Buzz Dining Hall, the student cafeteria. You untangle your blue mask from around your wrist and put it on as someone is kindly welcoming you inside. After putting some hand sanitizer on, you’re asked if you’re a resident student living on campus. You shrug your shoulders, say no, and are turned away. Disappointed and hungry, you make your way down the stairs and stare out into the open courtyard in front of you, not sure of what to do or where to go next.
The Concordia return-to-campus plan restricts access to spaces in respect of the Quebec government’s COVID-19 health and safety measures. As of September 1st, non-essential academic services, including eateries, are required to scan vaccine passports in an effort to control the fourth wave of COVID-19. The university’s health and safety protocols also require individuals to maintain a two-metre distance indoors in places where food and beverages are consumed.
Since the pandemic increases uncertainty when it comes to the number of students on campus, adaptations are more complex.
“It is really hard to plan operations when we don’t know what the campus is going to look like,” explained Torbey. “Hours and locations are more limited because we are unsure about traffic on campus.”
Now that the Buzz only opens its doors exclusively to students in residence that are registered to a Concordia meal plan, those from beyond this category are left with few food options on campus.
As you turn away from the Buzz, you notice a café sign over the dining hall. At second glance, you realize students are holding coffee cups as they come out of the building behind you. You figure it’s worth a shot. You return inside and go upstairs.
The Hive Cafe Solidarity Co-Op
You march past the Buzz dining hall and set your sights on a new mission: finding the elusive student cafe. Up another flight of stairs and you’ve made it: you’re standing at the doors of the Hive.
Since its launch in 2014, the Hive Café Solidarity Co-op has been a go-to lunch spot for sustainable and affordable food for Concordia students and faculty. However, this situation is still far from ideal.
“Coming back from a pandemic has been a huge challenge,” said Calvin Clarke, general coordinator for the Hive. “And because of our location at Loyola campus, it makes it really difficult for students to know we’re here.”
Returning to campus more than a year and a half into the pandemic, Clarke says the Hive is ramping up an almost entirely new staff and re-familiarizing clientele to their cooperative model.
As a cooperative, the Hive works differently than your typical restaurant. You’ll notice there are two sets of prices for everything on their menu, non-member and member prices. You have the option to become a shareholder by paying a one-time 10 dollar fee, after which you’ll be entitled to the lower member prices and gain the ability to participate in the democratic functioning of the co-op.
“We’re a model of a food structure that can be something for students,” said Clarke. “Being a pillar of living and breathing proof of what can happen on campus.”
The Hive has been taking a slow approach to reopening in order to gauge demand, adding menu items slowly to avoid unnecessary waste. After quietly resuming operations at Loyola in the second week of September, they’re planning to be open Monday through Thursday for the rest of the fall semester.
“We’re really targeting and showing that there’s a necessity, especially on a campus like Loyola that’s so isolated, that there needs to be better food options on campus for students,” said Clarke.
The Hive Free Lunch Program
As you arrive at the Hive, you notice the counter, a display case with burritos and, yes, the coffee machine. Finally, you’re at the right place. But wait, are students getting chili from another counter on the other side of the space? A little confused, you come closer. You have found the Hive’s free lunch.
All students have access to this food option at Loyola, developed to provide free and healthy lunches in an area where food options are minimal.
“No one should go hungry or stressed about where they are getting their next meal while they are trying to educate themselves,” said Alanna Silver, the Hive’s administrative coordinator.
The program is supported by various Concordia-affiliated associations including the Concordia Student Union (CSU) and the Arts and Science Federation of Associations (ASFA). The food bank Moisson Montréal also collaborates in providing the Hive Free Lunch with fruits and vegetables. The program provides students with free vegan meals every weekday.
During the first week of the semester, Silver confirmed they served about 40 meals a day, and that number has been growing week to week.
“We are hoping, as the semester goes along, we’ll be serving 200 servings a day,” said Silver. “We really don’t want to leave any students hungry. We are trying to increase our production as much as possible.”
Hive free lunches run from Monday to Friday and are available from 12:30 to 1:30 pm. As the program can no longer serve meals on plates with utensils due to sanitary measures, you are encouraged to bring your own tupperware to minimize “to-go” garbage.
Next time you find yourself with time to kill between classes and study sessions, don’t hesitate to stop by the Hive for a free lunch and some house-baked goodies (the cookies are something else).
Le Marché Express
You’ve hit the midday point of your school day. You’re just looking for a coffee, so you cross over to the SP building. Chatter and cash register sounds lead you down a flight of stairs where you arrive in front of Le Marché Express.
The university-contracted Marché Express has coffee, snacks and even some quick meals to grab on the go. As with the rest of the food service industry this year, supply has been harder to organize as restaurants adapt to re-opening.
“This year is really tough,” said Torbey. “Even now, we’ll order one product and we’re not able to get it. The supply chain still is experiencing a lot of difficulties.”
As a result of pandemic-related uncertainties, Le Marché Express is open for limited hours — but it can still get you your caffeine fix most of the time.
You’re feeling like you’ve walked the entire campus in search of a place to grab some food. The Hive is already filling up with students by the time you arrive and the Buzz is asking for residence proof, which you don’t have. Getting off-campus seems like it could be a better option for you, so you walk out the gates and march along Sherbrooke street, in a desperate search for some lunch.
Time flies and you realize that you have to be in class in a few minutes. You spot a Second Cup and a Subway in the distance, and in the opposite direction, too far for the eyes to see, lies Souvlaki George.
You realize that there are almost no options for restaurants near the Loyola campus, which brings you back to your two options; the Hive or the Marché Express. Hopefully, the line won’t be too long, giving you a chance to rest from your food hunting before attending your last lecture of the day.
This may have been a fictional account of one student’s journey across the Loyola campus, but the issue with food is a real one. Lack of food services on this part of the university’s grounds is an issue that has been previously acknowledged by Concordia University, and moves have been made in an effort to address concerns.
The Loyola Campus Working Group established a plan in 2020 concerning food services development on campus. The Working Group has the general mandate to consult with the Loyola community to get a greater sense of its needs.
In recommendations provided to the university, members prioritized diverse food projects to remedy the situation; the principal ones include the creation of a new eating space, a designated place for a pub, and the promotion of free food options on campus.
“We’re working closely with the administration right now in opening up a second location on Loyola campus,” said Clarke. “Hopefully that will become more accessible for students on campus.”
Finally, your food hunting has come to an end. You’ve gone through all the [minimal] options around Loyola!
You might have been tempted by the Hive’s brownies or got lucky getting a free lunch. Maybe you decided to grab a sandwich from the Marché Express with a cup of coffee. Perhaps you have returned to Sherbrooke street to grab something from the Second Cup. You’ve filled your stomach, and made it back to class.
Next time, you will probably come to campus with some snacks in your bag. On top of that, this experience has you strongly considering becoming a ‘meal prepping’ person. Most importantly, you will definitely wake up earlier to get coffee from home.
Photographs by Catherine Reynolds and Autumn Darey