Over summer we have seen some big changes to the food and drink scene on campus: Pieminister has entered the SU, a food market has opened in University Place, and we welcome the introduction of ‘Veggie Place’, a fully vegetarian shop.
With these changes coinciding with many items being taken off campus café menus (including the £1 filter coffees and jacket potatoes) and prices rising in the SU bar, I found myself asking if students had been forgotten in the mind of the University and the Students’ Union.
Where are we supposed to get affordable food on days we didn’t have time to bring in lunch? Do they really expect me to splash out on an £8 pie every weekday?
But, after meeting Liam Bergin from the University’s catering team, my mind has been somewhat changed.
The reason for setting up one of the first markets based within a University in the UK was essentially to improve what came before. The Uni Place canteen was drab, had no popular feedback and didn’t reflect the culture of Manchester as a city.
In setting up the marketplace, the University of Manchester is reflecting the food revolution happening in our city, as well as supporting and promoting local businesses (all of the vendors are independent Manchester startups) and in turn, reducing food miles that are increased with bigger brand names.
With the upcoming launch of the food centre in Manchester Alliance Business School (including a Pret A Manger and Five Guys) they felt that the University’s central buildings had to do more to compete with such huge brand names.
Whilst it may seem expensive for a student budget on first glance, each vendor is required to have a £5 entry product, meaning you can get a high quality lunch for a low (ish) price from any of the stalls. This also means that a lot of the meals are cheaper at the market than they usually are in the original restaurant or cafe.
It is also useful to note some of the reasons for slightly higher prices on campus. Much of the money goes to the quality of working environment for employees, and with an increased number of students being employed on campus at the new food ventures, this is more relevant than ever for the student population.
The University’s campus food also aims to be as sustainable as possible, working with sandwich companies who are aiming to have fully recyclable packaging, and donating any leftover food to charities to reduce waste.
I still have concerns over the sustainability of popularity for these new ventures. Perhaps the large footfall is only to do with students having more money at the beginning of term after receiving their student loan. Furthermore, for students in university catered accommodation it can be hard to make your own lunches every day, and there is little option for food that is affordable more than once a week, which the new marketplace does not offer.
Other universities around the UK have some ideas that Manchester could take note of, such as Newcastle giving all students half priced food in the library to compensate for the strikes last academic year, or Sheffield Hallam offering all food in the uni café for £1 on the last Wednesday of every month. Whilst many of us would be happy to know about the efforts to reduce waste and improve sustainability, I still believe that the University could do more with their food prices to stay relevant to the student community.
There is still a long way to go in terms of offering students both ends of the spectrum; we now have the option of one-off indulgent lunches, but we still need affordable quick meals.