Photos by Kyle West

Food security is a major issue that an unfortunately large number of students at McMaster University face. McMaster offers students over twenty different on-campus locations to get food. These locations range in their selection but are united by their general lack of affordability.

The Union Market, located on the main floor of the McMaster University Students Centre, differs from the rest in that they are a relatively affordable institution. They advertise having the best prices on campus, and in fact, they do. A cup of coffee can be as low as $1.40 and a “bigger, better” bagel can cost students under a toonie. Sales are known to occur throughout the week as well that provide students many affordable mealtime options.

Union Market also offers students a range of organic, gluten-free and fair trade products that increase its available consumer demographic. Open seven days a week with extended exam hours, they truly seem to be a place that is catered around student needs.

It is no wonder then that many students flock to Union Market on a daily basis. What is disheartening, however, is that while their prices are affordable, their stock is rarely present.

[spacer height="20px"]For the past few weeks, Union Market has been empty halfway throughout the week. By Thursday, almost all of the stock, most notably its sandwiches and bagels, are off the shelf.

When a cashier at Union Market was asked about the lack of products, she responded by saying that there is a limited number of items that are shelved each morning and that once these items are sold, oftentimes before noon, they are not replenished.

It is true that sales have increased at Union Market since their renovation this year. This may simply be good business for Union Market but for students, especially those on a tight budget, this is a serious issue. By not catering to the demand of the student body, the utility of Union Market becomes limited.

Some would argue that it is not Union Market’s responsibility to be the only affordable and accessible spot on campus. I would agree. But until other establishments can offer affordable prices, Union Market is all students on-campus really have.

If Union Market, and by extension the McMaster Students Union, was sincere in their commitment to fulfilling students’ needs, they would place priority on keeping Union Market well-stocked at the risk of any financial loss. Considering the number of students witnessed entering Union Market and leaving emptyhanded due to a lack of stock, the fear of lost profits is likely unfounded.

The other solution would be to increase affordable options for food on campus. While the recent implementation of Tax-free Tuesdays is a step forward in the right direction, the difference is marginal especially considering the discount applies only one day of the week. Campus-wide, prices have only increased and so it seems unlikely that students will be able to find affordable food elsewhere.  

Until student demands are met, it would be wrong of Union Market to advertise themselves as the best spot on campus for food. If you frequent Union Market and are able to snag a bagel or sandwich, consider yourself lucky. The majority of the student body is left disappointed and hungry.

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Union Market is stepping up their game with new vibes and affordable options for your between-class cravings. 

Operated entirely by MSU members, Union Market has sold bagels, coffee, snacks and cold drinks at the lowest prices on campus since it opened in 2002. Since May 1, the Market has seen some major changes. 

From a new paint job, a soon-to-be new front of house vinyl logo and introducing bigger, better bagels, McMaster’s favourite on-campus market is freshening up their look. Jeffrey Campana, Union Market’s Manager, says that the store needed a new vibe to keep up with customers’ interests. 

“We were just so outdated,” said Campana. “Our store was retailing to the market that was here in 2012 and we still expect to succeed in doing that in 2018. Sales go down every single year, but this year I don’t think they will just because of all these things we’re putting forth.”

These changes seem to be working, as sales have been higher over the past few months in comparison to previous years. Revenue for May 2018 was up 7.1 per cent since May 2017 and revenue for July 2018 has increased by 18.5 per cent from July 2017.

Campana says that these changes have also come into effect from a pressure to have healthier food options on campus. Union Market has since introduced a real food bar line and will be tracking its progress over the coming months. They have also upgraded their bagels, that were previously met with outrage from customers after their suppliers, the Great Canadian Bagel, had shut down. 

“We launched a new campaign called Bigger Better Bagels are Back, supplied by JC’s Hot Bagels just because our bagels actually sucked,” said Campana. “People were just telling us that we needed to do something about it, so we did.”

In addition to all of the major changes the store has seen since May, UM has also introduced dozens of new products, including 1280 sandwiches, Goldfish crackers, La Croix sparkling water, avocados, filled Cliff Bars and almond milk to ensure a wider range of products for customers. 

“These changes are coming because there’s someone that can do it,” said Campana. “A lot of times, people think [Union Market] is a convenience store, but while I’ve worked here, I’ve noticed that nothing really gets done. I’m using the summer to facilitate big changes. There is more that is ongoing, I believe that change is constant.”

Behind the scenes, Union Market’s student opportunity position has switched to a part time manager position. This ultimately reduces labour costs, cutting the full time position and hiring a student into the part-time role.

They have also recently signed a three year contract with Pepsi, which will take effect on August 3 after this past year of serving both Coca-Cola and Pepsi beverages. This contract will ultimately add more options for cold beverages at Union Market and serves as a more financially viable option for the MSU.

With success in their recent changes, Union Market is expecting to keep things fresh with several new features, which will be announced over the next few months.


By: Saad Ejaz

Last year, the McMaster Students Union ran a lengthy campaign to promote sustainable practices at McMaster University.

The campaign focused on implementing environmentally friendly solutions such as improving McMaster’s community garden, the benefits of utilizing solar as a form of energy and reducing waste.

During the Winter 2017 term, then MSU president Justin Monaco-Barnes and his team worked with the Union Market to reduce single-use plastic water bottle waste by eliminating the product entirely from the store and replacing it with boxed water packages, which are more sustainable in packaging and transportation.

However, bottled waters are back in full swing at the Union Market after though there was a significant amount of time and resources spent last year to implement the ban of bottled water.

As a large university, our campus has a great impact on the environment. Plastic water bottles are one of the largest contributors to McMaster’s carbon footprint, and by implementing a ban on these products, we were showing our support and care to an important cause.

Now, the Union Market may defend their actions by stating it was costing too much money, or that Boxed Water was too expensive (compared to some water bottle options).

Whatever the defence is, it is likely that it had a financial foundation.

The reality is that, if making sustainable choices were cheap and easy, then this world wouldn’t have much of a problem making the needed transition.

When the decision was made last year, it was followed up by a plan to compensate for a drop in water sales. For example, prices were slightly raised on popular items to recover lost profits while still being priced cheaper than anywhere else on campus. Now that plastic water bottles are back on the shelves, and there is no need for that cost recovery, did the increased prices of those products go down, or did they remain the same, forcing students to pay more for no definitive reason?

It is important to understand that any grass roots product made with materials that are helpful to environment will come with a premium cost attached to it.

This is why it can be so difficult to implement a positive and more sustainable approach in today’s world.

While boxed water is not the best alternative to plastic bottled water on campus, it is only one step towards creating a more environmentally friendly campus.

By selling plastic water bottles, the MSU has not only undone the work that was put into this project, but also undone the work that’s accompanied with this multi-staged project. With the Union Market going back on this effort, what are they doing in lieu of this project to address McMaster’s carbon footprint via plastic water bottles?

Currently, we need to be thinking about the environment more than ever and to see a backwards step is truly both sad and disappointing.

The MSU is in a unique position to make real, tangible change due to the fact that they are a non-profit organization with multiple profit generating business units making up for any financial shortcomings they may run into.

Real change comes from making hard, sometimes uncomfortable decisions in order to serve the greater good of today, while keeping in mind those of tomorrow.

True leadership also means being creative with solutions that best serve society, while being able to rationalize to those who may disagree at the time.

How much devastation do we need to see in the world before we are okay with the idea of making a sacrifice to best serve those who are affected the most? This program was created with a motivation to take a principled stance on a moral issue that needs us to act, now.

To see the program revert back so quickly due to narrow-minded leadership truly reminds me of just how much work there is still to be done on all levels, including from the people at the top who claim to care.

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By: Saad Ejaz

In an effort to engage in more sustainable practices, the McMaster Students Union has stopped selling plastic water bottles this month, while pushing for boxed water cartons and re-usable water bottles.

Originally proposed as part of Justin Monaco-Barnes’ MSU presidential campaign, the union is further developing existing initiatives to make the MSU more sustainable.

“Roughly 41 per cent of universities in Ontario have switched to a model where it’s single use plastic water bottle free… and we thought we would do the same as it is a pretty significant step in the right direction,” said Monaco-Barnes.

The new program is different from programs at other schools that completely phase out single use water bottles. Monaco-Barnes referenced previous applications of phasing out all single use water bottles to the increase in soft drink sales.

“One thing we noticed from other schools and consultation was that when they got rid of plastic water bottles there was a spike in pop and other juices which is obviously counter intuitive to a healthy active lifestyle,” he said. “So we wanted to make sure that if we were taking out single-use plastic water bottles… we were putting in something that could still reach that demand but also be more sustainable.”

To compromise, the MSU-run Union Market introduced boxed water cartons in September alongside the store’s existing plastic water bottle selection. But as of earlier in Feb., Union Market has phased out single-use plastic water bottles.

While the boxed water containers are more expensive than the cheaper plastic bottles, they match the price of higher end brands.

"We are hoping that if we can have enough students commit to not buying plastic bottles, that will be a driver for the university to not stock them,"
Blake Oliver
McMaster Students Union
vice president (Education) 

There is more to the increased sustainability of boxed water cartons than just their material. The cartons are square in shape, allowing more to be packed within a truck, creating a means to save on travel and gas. The boxed water cartons also require less input of water to be made. Currently it takes nearly three litres of water to make a single water bottle, whereas boxed water cartons only require one litre.

Blake Oliver, vice president (Education) of the MSU explained an upcoming campaign that will focus on how students can be more sustainable in their practices on campus.

“We are going to be encouraging students to not buy plastic bottles on campus. We are hoping that if we can have enough students commit to not buying plastic bottles, that will be a driver for the university to not stock them,” said Oliver.

Monaco-Barnes also mentioned further sustainability efforts, but that these would be issues tackled in the future.

“That is a down the road thing that I am going to stress to the incoming president… that it is something that would benefit students and the environment in an impactful way,” he said.

With coffee competitors around the corner, UM wants to remain a student hotspot

The Student Centre is bustling again and the Union Market is starting the year off with a fresh face. The student-run store is in the process of adding a third cash register and a new layout for easier coffee service. The store has already added a large grab ‘n’ go fridge along with gluten-free options. A grand reopening will take place in October, once renovations are complete.

The Union Market, owned and operated by the MSU, will soon have to compete with a new Starbucks moving into the Student Centre at the end of October.

“When the Starbucks went up on Main Street, we felt a bit of pressure,” said Matthew Bergen, Union Market manager.

Bergen said the Union Market will continue to bank on the student atmosphere that has kept regulars coming in over the years. He also wants to reach out to first years who may not know about the store because it doesn’t accept student meal cards.

“When you’re in first year, you’re just walking through the Student Centre - you’re in that bubble,” he said.

Bergen started working at the Union Market as a student two and a half years ago.

“I was paying my own way through school, so I needed a job. I really liked the environment here and how it was student-oriented. Everyone was on the same level,” he said. Bergen liked the student vibe so much that he applied to be manager twice.

When he started his term this past May, Bergen made it his mission to renovate the store. Since the Union Market first opened with the Student Centre in 2002, the store hasn’t had much more done than a few paint jobs.

Over ten years, the Union Market has seen its sales and traffic grow along with the student population. Now, with thousands of people passing through the Student Centre each day, the store is trying to catch up with its increased foot traffic. The Union Market currently sells between 2500-3000 cups of coffee a week.

While all full-time undergraduate students pay $122 toward operating costs of MSU services, the Union Market is one of the only MSU businesses that makes enough profit to help financially support other services.

Bergen said the Union Market is in a unique position as both a business and a part of a non-profit student organization.

“Our goal isn’t to widen our margins as much as we can or to mark up the prices,” Bergen said. “The Union Market is the only place on campus where you can get a coffee, yogurt, and fruit for under five bucks.”

McMaster’s Engineers Without Borders (EWB) is continuing their efforts to bring about a fair trade campus status for McMaster.

Last March, a motion was brought forth at the MSU’s general assembly for the MSU to work with the university to attain the status, but the motion was dismissed because quorum wasn’t reached.

A fair trade campus is a status granted by the Canadian Fair Trade Network that would mean all coffee sold at the university would be fair trade certified. In addition, there would have to be at least three fair-trade tea options and one chocolate option wherever tea and chocolate are sold.

Franchises such as Tim Horton’s that operate on campus would not be required to serve fair trade coffee.

There would also need to be a committee consisting of one university VP, a retail manager at the university, a manager from the Union Market, one faculty member and one student representative.

Fair trade signage would have to be visible where the products are offered, and the university’s website would need to indicate McMaster’s fair trade campus status.

Dani Mejia, director of fair trade awareness for EWB McMaster, said the organization will continue to promote and discuss how the initiative may be implemented.

“It would be a gradual change. We’ve been told it can’t happen overnight or even within a year,” said Mejia. “Even if many students aren’t aware of the benefits of fair trade, that’s exactly what we are trying to address [in our campaign],” she said.

As of Jan. 1, 2012, the MSU’s Union Market adopted the practice of selling fair trade only coffee as well as a selection of fair trade teas and chocolate.

Leigh Laidlaw, Chef Manager at Bridges Café, says Bridges currently serves fair trade coffee only, and he would be interested in serving fair-trade teas. Bridges has undertaken several sustainability initiatives in the past year, including a kitchen composting system and the eco container pilot program.

Other Canadian university campuses that have recently become fair trade certified include the University of British Columbia, the first to do so in Canada, and Simon Fraser University.

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