By Vivianne Hericks
— In our epicurean culture, the lowest species on the culinary food chain is the college canteen. At Amsterdam University College, the canteen has somehow managed to avoid extinction through means of evolution, but how long will it be until this species dies out?
At the end of last year the contract with Eurest and Maas, the two companies which were previously responsible for the catering of the cafes and vending machines across the University of Amsterdam (UvA), was finished. A few months prior to that the food and drink concession had been awarded to the Dutch catering company Cormet, and the complete transition across the UvA (and therefore also AUC) commenced.
In order to inform the students of upcoming changes, UvA released a statement on their website about the introduction of the new concept from January 1, 2017, and how it will be implemented in phases over the next several years. According to AUC students, this implementation and the potential changes that go along with it could not have come fast enough, since bad quality and an overall lack of variety in food and drink have been points of critique for years.
The potential enhancement of the situation via a new catering company had lead students to hope for improvement, only to have these hopes crushed at the start of 2017. “The cafeteria[‘s] quality remains low, but the prices surged. It is also not clear which prices correspond to which items“, said Jaime Lopes, a first-year Social Science major.
Many students considered the prices and the ’make-over’ ridiculous and unnecessary. “Since when does adding some plants and other rustic-esque items of furniture justify a 25% increase in price?“, asked Tom Weber, a second-year Humanities major. “It seems that we are paying a higher cost for food of the same quality, in order to pay for decorations“, said Angie Wehrli, a second-year Social Science major. Wehrli is referring to embellishments such as the display of artificial fruit next to real fruit, presumably serving the purpose to make the real food more appealing. She also mentioned that the new cafeteria feels very corporate, and not as personal as the previous one.
The canteen formerly run by Eurest was also considered expensive by most students. However, certain meal deals, the so-called ‘Campus Knallers’, offered cheap alternatives next to other, more expensive products. “I want my 75 cents for 3 croissants deal back, and the €1,50 paninis”, said Evi Sifaki, a first-year Social Science major. Before 10 am on weekdays the canteen offered breakfast deals that included three croissants for 75 cents and cheaper coffee, 75 cents instead of €1,35.
Many students at AUC liked to take advantage of the Campus Knallers for breakfast, as well as for lunch, and would like to see them back on the menu. The cheapest options for lunch consisted of paninis or soup. Instead of €1,50 the paninis now cost €2,95 each, and the ‘homemade’ soup has increased in price from €1,20 up to €2,25.
The student body’s complaints are not simply limited to the pricing of the products being sold in the canteen. “I think it’s unnecessary that almost everything is wrapped in plastic, e.g. the tea bags“, said Sarah Hülsen, a first-year Science major. This could be regarded as something of a paradox, considering that AUC actively promotes environmental awareness and sustainability. Hülsen is also disappointed by the limited vegan options, as compared to the variety of meat products being offered at the cafeteria. “Instead of going towards students’ demands of [sic] cheaper food and more variation by catering to vegetarians and vegans, we embarrassingly got the opposite: more expensive and less varied products“, said Johan Fredsted, a second-year Humanities major.
An initiative by AUC students to run the canteen themselves after the Eurest contract with the UvA ended was passed on to the UvA Facility Services (FS) for approval in 2015, according to Belinda Stratton, Managing Director at AUC. “UvA FS were very open to including and supporting such initiatives on the way to a new food and drink concept, and in the tendering process,“ she said.
Meetings with the AUC students leading the initiative were held, and possibilities were discussed. It became clear that a student-run cafeteria “would have to be organised “under the wings” of the new concession-holder, but a high degree of autonomy should be possible“, according to Stratton. As a result of these meetings, the support for the execution of a student-run cafeteria at AUC was included in the tendering documents by the UvA FS.
The Herring spoke to a member of the current Student Council in order to report back on why the initiative for the student-run cafeteria did not work out as planned. Ellen Ackroyd, a second-year Social Science major, referred to miscommunication between the Student Council and the UvA FS. The students working at the cafeteria would have had to volunteer and would have earned no salary, a sacrifice considering the amount of hours of work that would have to be put into a well functioning co-operation.
Additionally, “the ideas we had, especially with regards to recipe design, were kind of “overthrown“ by their own style of working/menu plan“, said Ackroyd. According to her, the initiative was not successful, but the plan is to restart talks with the contractors soon. “As for the future, we are going to just wait to see how these first few months go. We have received complaints from students, and are working on ways to tackle them“, Ackroyd added.
On January 28th, the Student Council released a lengthy statement about their future plans for the cafeteria initiative via their Facebook page. You can read the full text below by clicking on the ‘See More’ link: