Following on Students’ Union vice-president (operations and finance) Emma Ripka’s campaign promise, the two SU-operated bars on campus have rolled out provisional new additions to their menus to satisfy the cravings of students who prefer eating the cows’ food rather than the cow itself. Now, as I’m allergic to healthy foods like grass and guacamole, I won’t be trying the new veggie burger at Dewey’s, nor the veggie-tacos at RATT. But the real question is: will anyone else?
Given that the SU is funded largely by a non-optional fee that the student body pays, it should be using its budget to make the struggle of university as accommodating and productive for its constituents as possible. So the next question is: is there a demand for vegetarian/vegan products in SU businesses, and if so, is the demand worth the cost?
Ripka herself has stated she’s a vegetarian and partly brought about these changes due what she saw as a lack of options available to her and other vegetarians/vegans. Everyone on campus knows people who are vegetarian or vegan, but how much of the student population actually follow those diets? I would suggest that there aren’t enough to warrant expending SU resources to provide foods that are already broadly available.
From Savoy’s lentil curry to Chopped Leaf’s popeye salad, and even Dewey’s already extant taco salad and roasted vegetable penne, there’s already a wealth of options for vegetarians/vegans on campus, especially relative to the proportion of that particular demographic. Although Ripka has mentioned in previous forums that there’s a higher proportion of vegetarians and vegans at the university than in Edmonton as a whole, she hasn’t disclosed any official population statistics, nor could I find any to complement her statement. As such, unless such statistics were collected and not released, it falls to common sense to assume a small number.
Now, the SU throwing money at whatever new short-lived initiatives the current SU executive team wants is nothing new. Due to quick election turnover, many executives have often focused on making immediate, short-term initiatives in areas like mental health and student rights. Given this, it’s worth asking this question: should the SU be focussing on immediate fixes to long-term problems, or starting initiatives that are never going to be finished? There’s a hole in the wall at Dewey’s that’s been there for the last 600 years (probably). Why are we looking at extra vegetarian options when there are literally cracks in the foundations?
In addition, the SU businesses haven’t exactly been profitable in recent years. And while they’ve generally been able to avoid running at a loss, both Dewey’s and RATT are projected to run a deficit this year. This brings me to my main objection: when we’re seeing SU businesses running barely above the profit line, why is the SU focussing on developing additional products that will likely add to production costs and may see very little relative demand? Why doesn’t it focus instead, for example, on testing different meal or drink specials that could actually increase sales and generate a profit?
It’s befuddling to me, and likely many other students, that these businesses purport to focus on making nice spaces for students to relax without maintaining the minimum profit margins required to develop and maintain them. Many students would be interested in better food even if the cost increases; the lines at Filistix and Starbucks are a testament to that. While the SU should focus on making the menus at Dewey’s and RATT as accessible to as many people as possible, that’s a priority for flourishing businesses, not ones that barely make enough to fix holes in the wall.
I respect Ripka’s attempts to make the campus bars more friendly to dietary restrictions, but I argue that it would be more cost-effective, and better for the student body at large, to focus on turning SU businesses into nice places to relax and destress without having to worry about bats flying out of holes in the wall.
If we’re going to be eating grass, we may as well be eating it in a nice bar.