Ryerson campus food gets a taste test

[I]t was hard for me not to get excited about campus food at the Ryerson Food Services’ Town Hall last Wednesday meeting. I listened intently over my tomato coconut basil soup—prepared by the staff from scratch—as Joshna Maharaj, assistant director of Food Services and executive chef at Ryerson, opened her presentation with the article that launched Ryerson’s changes to its food services provider. Last February, the Toronto Star published an article filled with negative comments towards the food services here at Ryerson.

Since then, Ryerson dropped its food contract with Aramark and replaced it with a new corporate partner, Chartwells. Today, Ryerson Eats, the campus’ food services, are headed in part by Maharaj—and she has a very simple mantra: campus food should be wholesome, affordable and delicious.

And wholesome, affordable and delicious it is. On Monday, the Hub cafeteria served a full St. Patrick’s Day themed meal, which includes Guinness-braised beef stew or roasted root vegetable cottage pie with sweet potato topping, sides of Irish potato champ, honey glazed heirloom carrots or you can opt for Irish soda bread. For dessert, chocolate Guinness cupcakes with Bailey’s icing or St. Patty’s non-alcoholic punch are available. The entire meal was $10.

Before the meeting—since the change in the food services at Ryerson—I hadn’t noticed a huge difference on campus. I didn’t see any dramatic price changes and the diversity of the food that is available seemed to be the same as when I first enrolled back in 2011. However, attending this event has opened my eyes to aspects of the food on campus I never noticed and now appreciate and look out for.

Maharaj helps design the menus for all three residences on campus as well as the Hub cafeteria. She makes great use of posters inside the cafeteria where she displays menus and where exactly the ingredients were sourced from. She uses icons on the displays of all the food which show if the food is local, vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, Halal, etc. This is probably the reason why I, and maybe more students, have not noticed any real changes to food the on campus: I never eat in the cafeteria—I have no classes in the building and my closest options for food are either Metro or Tim Hortons.

The Hub cafeteria now offers a great new selection of healthy and affordable snacks and beverages. Local companies, such as Sweets from the Earth, Square Snacks, Neal Brothers, Planet E Beverages, and Kiki Maple Sweet Water can now be found in the Hub cafeteria as well on residence. These snacks include gluten-free, vegan and nut-free options. The cafeteria is also newly equipped with large soup kettles which are filled with soups that are made from scratch by the staff. “The kale apple salad is popular. It makes me excited that so much kale is being eaten on this campus!” Just hearing her say this made me excited as well.

I can tell by hearing the way Maharaj spoke about the team behind her that they all collectively care very much about the way food is made and presented here at Ryerson and they filled me with confidence that our university is doing something different from everyone else. “We try our best to let you know why prices go up, and it’s not because we want to take more money from you. It’s because we want to value the work of our farmers and providers.”

Overall, I’m extremely happy with the information I gained from attending this food services event. I do hope they put together more of them—not just for the delicious food that was offered, but also just to keep students in the loop about the food services at Ryerson and allowing us to voice our questions and opinions. For the three years that I’ve been enrolled at Ryerson, I’ve never given much thought or consideration towards how food is dealt with here. I honestly didn’t think it was much of my concern as I either packed my own lunches or grabbed something small on the go. I’ve come to appreciate the hard work Maharaj and her crew seem to be putting towards the food on campus and I look forward to her plans to reshape the way food is made here at Ryerson.

For more info on Ryerson’s food services, visit their website or follow them on Twitter.