Started by a group of first-year residents on February 16, a petition calling for “change [to UBC’s] mandatory meal plans and dining halls” has since garnered over 900 signatures. The petition was made in response to numerous posts in the UBC Class of 2020 Facebook group complaining about the price and quality of the dining halls’ food.
“We are running out of our meal plan because the food is expensive … yet people found a pebble in their omelette or a cup of oil in their chow mein,” said Maria Michouris, one of the petition’s organizers.
Michouris noted that while the Minimum Plan is intended for “students who dine on campus occasionally on weekends,” many students who eat on campus more frequently choose it because it is the only rate they can afford.
Colin Moore, the director of food service operations at UBC, cites the pricing as necessary.
“We stand by our prices because we prioritize local, organic and top-quality ingredients,” he said. “The prices that we set are also generally at market pricing and they are impacted by the cost of doing business. We pay a living wage to everyone who works for us.”
The petition also demands greater transparency from the university, stating that students are regularly being overcharged.
“Within my group of friends, five of us were overcharged at least three times in one week,” said Markus Lee, another first-year student and petitioner. “They try to rush you through [when it’s busy] so you don’t want to be the person who holds up the line by asking for the receipt.”
According to Michouris, students can check online to see how much they have spent, but this doesn't allow them to see a detailed list of what they were charged for, offering no proof of being overcharged.
“Unless you notice it on the spot with a receipt, there’s no way for you to complain and get your money back,” said Lee.
Moore acknowledged that there has been some feedback about students being charged incorrectly.
“I would encourage anybody who thinks that they have been overcharged to let the dining halls’ supervisors know about the transaction and we can try to make it right,” said Moore. “They could also let us know by filling out our Spill The Beans survey.”
The call for transparency is further motivated by the ambiguity surrounding the capital improvement fund (CIF) and the overhead fee, which together take approximately 35 per cent from the Minimum Plan. The petition’s organizers questioned whether the money is being effectively used given reports from Vancouver Coastal Health showing that both Place Vanier and Totem Park’s dining halls have incurred serious infractions.
“When any critical infraction is flagged, we fix them immediately,” said Moore. “I would prefer that there wasn’t any infraction, but as part of running the food business, we do have some standard infractions to address. However, we have elevated our auditing standard well above what Vancouver Coastal Health offers.”
Regarding the fees, the CIF is a non-refundable fee that is used to do planned upgrades to dining facilities such as building Orchard Commons. The overhead fee goes towards “utility, repair, administration and management costs,” but according to Moore, students recover that overhead through the discount they get from spending their meal plan at the dinning halls.
Moving forward, there’s a tentative meeting between UBC Food Services and the petition’s organizers to discuss the issue in depth. The Residence Association for first-year residences has also created a survey to “gain data on how first-year students feel about [the] meal plan.”
“Our aim for now is to get as many people to sign our petition as possible,” said Michouris. “We need around maybe 5,000 signatures, which I think is possible because I have talked to upper-years and they are more than happy to sign the petition.”
“We don’t expect immediate changes,” said Lee. “However, if UBC could gradually transition into something that would actually benefit us more, that’s something we are hoping for because many of us are still going to be living on residence and we need a reliable meal plan.”