Indigenous catering comes to campus

Photo courtesy of Cedar Feast House Catering

SFU has plans to rollout an on-campus Indigenous catering option on Burnaby Campus this September.

The university is in the midst of working out a contract with a traditional Aboriginal caterer that would be able to prepare and serve authentic cultural dishes, blessed by elders, at Aboriginal events on campus.

Due to the agreements that SFU has in place with its two current catering services, events on campus must be catered by either the SFU Dining Services and the Simon Fraser Student Society (SFSS) Food and Beverage Services.

This has posed a challenge for the Aboriginal community on campus since the provided services cannot offer the traditional foods typically served. The First Nations Student Association (FNSA) and the SFSS first brought this to the attention of administration nearly two years ago, and have been advocating for it ever since.

Tsatia Adzich, leader of the FNSA’s Indigenous Catering Initiative, explained the significance of having their own caterer. “Food is a very essential part of a celebration,” said Adzich. “Food brings people together and that’s really what this is all about. [It] is creating that community and that safeness.”

She expressed frustration at the length of time this has taken and what she sees as relatively little progress. Adzich stressed that this is a particularly important issue for the FNSA to have Aboriginal caterers at Aboriginal events, especially as SFU’s campuses are situated on unceded Coast Salish territory.

The SFSS issued an official letter of support for Aboriginal catering on campus last March, in addition to a similar statement in favour made by the SFU Office for Aboriginal Peoples. They, along with the Indigenous Student Centre, have also been in consultation with SFU’s Ancillary Services throughout the process.

For Dan Traviss, manager of SFU’s Dining Services, it has taken longer and been more complex than Ancillary Services initially expected.

He outlined some of the obstacles that the university has faced in bringing about the policy change, such as insurance and liability, food safety certifications, consultations with different stakeholders, and ensuring that an external caterer would respect SFU’s stance on sustainable packaging and fair trade.

Adzich voiced concerns about a lack of consultation with the FNSA. “I was very clear that I wanted to be an active member of the process,” she said. She added that they have had difficulties with arranging caterers with SFU in the past and she hopes they can continue to work together to resolve the issue.

She added, “If this process were approachable and easy to navigate for students in general, the relationship between students and administration would be better.”

Traviss responded to her concerns, “We tried to be as transparent as we could. [. . .] There’s a number of things that were important to us.

“It did take a bit of time, both with getting an agreement written out and with stakeholders, how are they going to order, who are they going to go through — all of those logistical things.”

He said that SFU is in talks with the preferred caterer of Aboriginal groups on campus, Cedar Feast House Catering, and that they are working to establish a “pilot agreement” with the company. The agreement would cover service to SFU’s Burnaby campus only, as the contracts with other campus caterers would require a different approach. The university’s catering agreement with its Burnaby caterers expires in 2017, at which time there will be the opportunity to re-visit the food contracts details before going out to tender.

He stressed that Aboriginal catering is the first priority and referred to SFU’s new Aboriginal Strategic Plan.

“We’re on Salish land. We see it as important.”