Redeemer’s Problem, Paid for By Students

Seeing your dorm card value dwindle by the day? Questioning why you’re paying $8.50 for a bag of milk, $13.00 for the meal of the day at ReFresh, or $12.00 for a jar of NoName peanut butter? Fear no more, for this issue is over a decade old and there is no plan to solve it. 


“I understand there are supply chain issues, inflation, etc.,” says Peter Frielink, a first-year education student. “But since I’ve begun attending Redeemer, a slice of pizza at Refresh has more than doubled. In 2019, a slice of pizza at Refresh was $2.50 [each], now it’s $5.75 a slice, plus HST [$6.25 total]…I think Redeemer should take a look at Sodexo and see if [the astronomic price increases] really [are] supply chain-related, or if it’s profit-driven.”


In the brainstorming of this article idea, Sodexo was the first organization I reached out to for a comment. They deferred me to the university, which did not provide a comment. That may be indicative of the university’s unwillingness to solve the problems regarding food policy on campus: high prices, poor quality, and a slew of rules regarding food policy that the university not only won’t release to the student body but punishes them when they break those rules.


Sebastian Caldwell, the President of Student Senate, admitted that Senate has no plans to solve the issue of food prices or product quality for on-campus grocery shoppers, but recognizes the problems that high grocery prices, poor quality product, and regulations regarding food policy on campus pose for students.


As many students know, Redeemer is locked into a contract with Sodexo, the food services provider on campus, until 2025. Sodexo is responsible for all food on campus, which prohibits other providers on campus. There are several pages of rules and regulations regarding food policy outlined by Sodexo for students on campus, but students aren’t allowed to view the contract or the regulations regarding food policy. 


Caldwell noted that Sodexo’s food policies are not publicly available. This was confirmed by Senate’s Vice-President of Student Affairs, Alexa deVries, who said that Senate was told they were not allowed to publicize any information regarding food policy to the student body. 


Please, make it make sense.


This confusion around the food policy rules ultimately boils over in instances like last year, when a couple of female students organized a coffee house fundraiser for The Hub, a homelessness relief charity for impoverished people in Hamilton. However, these students were serving food complementarily on tip of an admission fee, and Redeemer’s campus services department intervened and informed them that they wouldn’t be able to serve food at the event unless it was catered by Sodexo. 


It’s a situation easily avoided if Redeemer and Sodexo published a list of food rules and regulations for students to see before planning events like this.


“A lot of [the food policies and rules are] shrouded in secrecy, even though they shouldn’t be,” said Caldwell, who reflected on his time as Spiritual Events Coordinator on Student Senate last year. “Last year I was the SEC and [for our creative worship night] we could’ve gone to Walmart for $5 and gotten enough hot chocolate for 80 people, instead we had to go through Sodexo and it cost us $90. The hot chocolate tasted like bathwater.”


Students have long complained about this, especially in the four years I have been here, but Caldwell says that based on Student Senate meeting minutes, this problem has existed for over a decade. 


On a recent Instagram poll on The Crown’s story, a few students have chimed in with their own opinions:


“You should be able to collect points at Tim’s.”

“No chicken should ever be that chewy.”

“The quality of produce at the Market is terrible. It’s never fresh.”

“[They need] fresher ingredients at communal and Refresh.”

“Prices are way too expensive…the meal of the day now costs $13—it was $11 last year.”

“Food services are good, but I wish it was a little cheaper.”

“We should be able to choose if we want to spend money on communal, not be charged regardless.”


Third-year student and academic senator, Abby Ciona, even noted that with the exchange rate, students at Redeemer are paying Disney World prices for products as simple as carrots and dip at ReFresh. Unfortunately, instead of Mickey Mouse, we have Pepé Le Pew, who usually hangs out between the first and second parking lots.


Ideas are there, but when will Redeemer step up to the plate and do something? Unfortunately, not for at least another two years, as Redeemer’s President’s Council, made up of senior leadership at the university, re-approved Sodexo’s food policy rules in February of 2023. This affirmed the university’s solidarity with the food services program, leaving some curious about where the institution stands on basic, solvable issues that students face. 


Of course, inflation plays a role in grocery prices as it does with everything else, but inflation has dropped steadily and is lower now than it was a year ago…so why aren’t Sodexo’s grocery prices dropping with it? That’s another question we’d have loved to pose in an interview with them.


While food prices have steadily climbed at ReFresh over the past few years, and more than doubled in the case of the price of a pizza slice, what is even more shocking is that all food that isn’t purchased by 3 p.m. is packaged up by Sodexo, weighed, and thrown in the dumpsters behind the school. Why is Sodexo throwing food in the garbage when it isn’t affordable in the first place? Would it not make more sense just to lower prices so it sells? That seems logical. 


What makes the food waste even more absurd is that perhaps the student body’s most well-known club, Deeds, goes downtown every Friday to serve hot chocolate to homeless people. There are nearly 2,000 (known) homeless people living in Hamilton, and the food services program at Redeemer is throwing food in the garbage instead of sending it downtown with students who visit homeless people not 10 kilometers from our campus. 


Someone please, make it make sense. Are we only to care for our neighbours if it’s good for business? I’m sure Sodexo has fair reasoning for this policy, but as previously mentioned, they refrained from taking questions from The Crown.


A ResLife employee and student who requested to remain anonymous even noted that instead of having Sodexo cater ResLife events for the year, they’ve started eating off campus, which makes sense—it’s cheaper, and the quality is better. 


I asked Student Senate what they were doing to solve this issue.


“We’re bringing concerns forward, even though they’re not being listened to. It is being brought up to President Zietsma in our next meeting with him, and to the Board of Governors in November, the highest form of advocacy we can perform,” said Caldwell. 


VPSA deVries also noted that Senate is looking to work on transparency with the university and allow for students to learn and understand the rules and regulations behind food services at Redeemer and what they’re allowed to do. 


“A conversation we have had with campus services is that a lot of student concerns come from points of misunderstanding about why prices are so high. Students need to be educated on answers to these kinds of questions,” said deVries. 


This is a fair point, but when 2% milk is selling for nearly $4 more in the Market than it is in grocery stores not 10 minutes from campus, is there anything to misunderstand about Sodexo’s grocery and ReFresh prices? Or is it just price gauging to make a profit off students who are forced to buy into a meal plan? Buy in…literally, first and second-year students are forced to buy into the meal plan and senior students who opt out of the plan when living on campus are charged an additional fee.  


Surely there are logical responses to these questions, but we just don’t know them because our request for an interview was declined. Maybe it’s time to ask students what their opinions are on the Market and Refresh. With dozens of restaurants and grocery stores surrounding the university, maybe students should be given more options when it comes to groceries. 


When first and second-year students are forced to buy into the on-campus meal plan and not allowed to buy their groceries solely from off-campus grocery stores, it leaves questions and concerns about the morals and ethics behind Sodexo’s astronomic price increases and the university’s willingness to stand by and allow it to happen to their student population.