Adapted from “G-Spot Statement from 2008 OPIRG report” written by Kelly Fritsch
Profit does not make the world valuable. Pre-packaged plastic food does not sustain our bodies or our minds. As we yearn for something nutritious, something sustainable, we are told to shut up and hand over our money. But we stopped. And we stood up. And and we said “No more”.
The students at Carleton University are hungry. Rising tuition and rent in Ottawa meant that average food budget took a nosedive. Many students literally live on rice and ketchup for weeks at a time, their energy and concentration faltering, and increasingly must rely on coffee and other stimulants to stave off hunger and keep them going.
That’s why the Garden Spot was formed by the Carleton Food Collective, a loose bunch of students looking to serve the need within their community through direct action.
The Garden Spot is a revolutionary act of defiance started in December of 2001, to provide meal alternatives to the South Ottawa community. Inspired by the People’s Potato at Concordia University, Montreal, volunteers have served over 12000 multi-course vegan meals.
The G-Spot serves nutritious vegan meals (currently about once or twice per week) using a “pay-what-you-can” system enabling eaters from all social backgrounds to each pay what they are able to. Volunteers meet up to prepare lunch in the morning in an off-campus cooking space and then haul the food to school. Food is obtained mainly through donations from a handful of stores in Ottawa. The Collective tries to use as much locally sourced and organic produce as possible. Striving for as little waste as possible, the G-Spot asks all eaters to bring their own reusable food containers and only provides biodegradable plastic containers.
The G-Spot today (2015) follows this tradition and is seeking to increase its number of weekly servings.
More about the G-Spot’s history
[Back in 2001:] For four months the G-Spot served meals. That’s when Administration and Carleton’s corporate food monopoly, Chartwells, stepped in. The G-Spot was the first open challenge to monopoly capitalism and enforced hunger on campus and the profiteers took notice. They wanted it shut down.
Chartwells is an aggressive monopoly. It actively exploits workers and poor students to the benefit of the profit-hungry. The workers are paid minimum wage and treated poorly. They are often immigrants who in many cases speak little english or french and therefore have little knowledge of their rights or labour law. Chartwells has an exclusive monopoly on over 200 college and university campuses across North America and is a subsidiary of the Compass Group, based in the UK. The Compass group is the worlds largest private supplier of prison meals, and is heavily involved in the US private prison system. The food available at Carleton University is expensive, low quality, caters to the meat- eating majority, and largely ignores healthy, nutritious and good tasting vegetarian and vegan alternatives. Any vegetarian items Chartwells serves come from dubious production and serving methods making many doubt the purity of their food.
On the Compass website, their goals are outlined in terms of market and pure profit. Their goal is to increase profitability for their clients, partners and shareholders. This is, of course, at the expense of their workers and the people eating their food, whether in a prison or a school cafeteria who garner no mention on the list of goals.
The Carleton Food Collective was well aware of Chartwells presence on campus. As more and more students were alienated from accessible, healthy and sustainable food choices, there was no choice but to stand up and clear the way for a more viable alternative.
In April of 2002, the student body had a referendum, resulting in a majority vote, entitling the G-Spot to a $1.50 student fee on each students tuition. This gave the Collective about $20,000 which was to be used to was to build a kitchen and serving space on campus. Health concerns had been raised about the fact that on a daily basis food was traveling in coolers between the church kitchen and Carleton where it was served. Essentially, along the way, the food could become contaminated and make someone sick.
After winning an initial vote from the Board of Governors to allow the Collective to raise the money (student democracy being tenuous at best), all seemed to go well. That is, until the classroom Administration had allocated for the G-Spot to convert was not approved by the health inspector, as it was underground without ventilation. The G-Spot was left with nowhere to cook and serve from. There are many viable locations on campus, but the Collective was unable to negotiate another location.
Not everyone will get excited about a vegan food collective. Yet, the G-Spot is vital to those it serves and enriching to the community in general.
There has been an unexpected change in Carleton’s environment. The social interaction between people created a community of diverse individuals. Many students sight the days that they volunteered with the Collective as the highlight of their week. As people cooked together, ate together, and cleaned together, ties and connections were made. It has created links between students, the public, churches, community groups and small businesses. Suddenly, those who were once alienated had an entire support system surrounding them. A branch of the Collective started Orgasmic Organics, a community garden, which has fed people all summer long and once harvested, will supply the G-Spot with fresh organic vegetables. Through the G-Spot, isolated individuals have come together in an active community. Carleton University is a better place for it and so is the city of Ottawa.
In the one short semester the G-Spot has been running it has become an established part of community life. The opposition to the Garden Spot by Administration and Chartwells is a misplaced over-reaction. Chartwells management says that the G-Spot is taking away their business, but many who eat at the Garden Spot would go hungry as they are unable to pay Chartwells prices.
The Garden Spot has set a precedent, that’s why we’re dangerous. We’ve built a community, uniting students and the Ottawa public around a local issue. Solutions to problems don’t have to depend on government or corporate handouts. People can work together as a community to meet their own needs. There are still hunger and poverty in our community, but with this success, they’re closer to being eliminated. This is why the Carleton Food Collective is not going to stop fighting until it wins.
In September 2002 it was announced that the G-Spot had been allocated a suitable space on campus. We’re back in action and ready for madness.
[2015:] Let us not forget our history and keep up the awesome work! Thank you, Kelly, for this great history lesson!