Michael Kurts with files from Krisha Ravikantharaja

Nothing’s more likely to generate a spirited discussion than food options at a university. For the University of Toronto’s Monica Dairo, food is simply fuel.

“I make sure I have enough to sustain myself during the two-hour commute, both to and from school,” said the fourth-year environmental studies undergrad. “I eat before or during, so I am less likely to fall asleep during the commute.

“When I’m at home, food is comfort and food is family. But at school, when I’m rushed and stressed, food is energy.”

Helena Panico, a first-year humanities student who lives off-campus, said she is always looking for healthier options.

“Living by myself, I find myself grabbing a bag of chips, which is not the best. Now, it’s the new year so I’m trying to eat healthier.”

Food is likely to remain a topic of interest at U of T’s downtown Toronto campus, where the university is moving to directly run the food services currently operated by contractor Aramark. The change will get underway this summer.

“This move will allow us to take a more active role in creating comfortable and welcoming dining areas,” saidAnne Macdonald, U of T’s director of ancillary services.

“We’ll also be able to enhance the food offerings available to students on the St. George campus, particularly those who don’t live in residence.”

Approximately 250 Aramark employees currently work in the food service locations (or in catering/beverage services) on the campus where these changes will occur and the university intends to present these employees with employment opportunities in the new food services operation. Town hall meetings are scheduled with the employees for next week to discuss the upcoming change.

The university said it is committed to the highest quality food services for students, staff and faculty.

“We have a number of marvellous chefs on campus already so managing our food services directly gives us a lot more options,” Macdonald said. “We’re looking at how we can increase the use of local products and reduce the use of pre-prepared and processed foods. We’re excited about those possibilities.”

Macdonald said the change to directly operated food services also increases the opportunity to develop meal plans that better meet the needs of students, both those who live in residence and those who commute to the campus. The residence dining operations at New College (pictured below) and Chestnut residence will be important dining hubs in the new model.

photo of New College Dining Hall

“We could not have undertaken this change without the cooperation and goodwill of New College,” Macdonald said. “We are very grateful for their assistance and look forward to a successful partnership in the years to come.”

The change comes after several years of planning about how to best meet food needs on campus for students, faculty and staff. As part of the process, students, staff and faculty were consulted. Macdonald said those discussions showed there is a strong appetite for improved food options, including some that are unique to the U of T.

“My favourite place to grab a snack or lunch would be the Green Beet at Gerstein because they’ve got all vegan and vegetarian options,” said Maya, a fourth-year undergrad who often brings lunch from home.

The university already directly operates a number of dining areas on the St. George campus, especially those located in student residences. All of the outlets currently on campus will remain in operation after the switchover, and the campus catering previously provided by Aramark will also transition to operation by the university. However, Macdonald says, change is coming. She’s encouraging everyone on the downtown Toronto campus to stay tuned for more news as the new academic year approaches.

Student athlete Avert Garrett-Patterson said she’s hoping to find healthy snacks throughout the day.

“I’m on the track varsity team so I don’t want to eat too unhealthily,” she said. “I’m one of those snackers who always eats while they’re studying.”

The university’s ancillary services department currently operates about 30 locations offering food services to the downtown Toronto campus community. Macdonald thanked Aramark for the services they’ve provided over the last decade, and the collaborative relationship that the university has enjoyed with them. She noted that the company’s contract was coming to an end so this was the right time for the university to decide how it wanted to manage food services on campus in the future.

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