At 11 a.m., a time where usually hungry students pour off the buses or drag themselves out of their 9:45 classes, the cafe served only a few lone stragglers. On May 3, NYU Shanghai students kept their distance from all campus food, in an attempt to boycott the recent decline in food quality in the cafeteria and the NYU Shanghai Cafe.
Almost an hour later, the cafeteria saw one of the lowest turnouts in the past two years and more Sherpa and Eleme drivers on Century Avenue than ever before. Students also formed food-ordering groups, in their attempt to move their meals off campus for the day.
However, some students saw the boycott has inconvenient, and the cafeteria was still the easiest meal option. NYU Study Away student Patricia Simono did not participate in the boycott, stating that with the half hour break she had between classes, the cafeteria was the easiest choice. “We’re nearing finals, and it takes too much time to order food, eat it, and come back to study. I don’t have time to do this [boycott].”
Another NYU Study Away student Matthew Gibson also stated that the issues of the cafeteria did not affect him personally. “I wouldn’t say I’m boycotting, but I’m trying hard not to stand in the way of change. Honestly, the prices in the cafeteria are already so much lower than prices in New York, so I’m not sensitive to the issue about rising prices.” With a huge portion of NYU Shanghai’s students coming from NYU Abu Dhabi or NYU New York, the boycott may not have reached the participation levels students had hoped.
The boycott of the cafeteria was organized by NYU Shanghai students last week, after complaints that the declining quality of the food, and the rising prices of dishes, were both impacting the well-being and health of students. Organized by the recently formed Cafeteria Reform Committee, the boycott demanded a “better cafeteria” (我们需要一个更好的食堂). Michelle Huang, former NYU Shanghai Student Body President and NYU Shanghai Sophomore, suggested in a Facebook group that students and faculty start a mass boycott.
The Committee – a temporary and ad-hoc student group formed by NYU Shanghai students Dylan Crow, Nofar Hamrany, Sonia Alvarez, Jesse Xu, and Andreas Strandgaard – released a document proposing that the official boycott would be held on Tuesday, May 3. After the boycott, the document would be presented to Nine Masters; the company contracted by NYU Shanghai to cater the cafeteria.
Specifically, the Committee used Facebook and WeChat comments, complaints, and personal issues to note down a list of issues that seemed to be common among the student body. Their five demands were categorized into price, variety, health, physical environment, and quality. While the Committee has been working on improving the variety of dishes and adding healthier options to the menu, many of their issues have not yet been achieved.
Another demand from both students and the Committee was to increase communication between Nine Masters and students. Since the opening of the cafeteria, prices have been rising, but neither Nine Masters or NYU Shanghai has notified students of price changes or the reasons behind them.
On Tuesday afternoon, the Committee presented the demands to Nine Masters, in the hope that they would attempt to reform the cafeteria as soon as possible.
As of May 4, students resumed eating at the cafeteria after a transcript of the Committee’s meeting with Nine Masters was sent out to students via WeChat and Facebook on Tuesday night. In the transcript, Jerry Zhang, the manager of Nine Masters on campus, outlined the reasons for price changes. Specifically, prices increased at the cafeteria after the wages of workers were raised. Jerry also stated that he would be instructing the workers of the changes and implement stricter policies on hygiene, health, and quality control.
According to the Committee, the boycott would resume if Nine Masters refuses to make appropriate changes. The Committee will also be following up with Nine Masters and Jerry to ensure that their demands are being met and that transparency occurs.
The boycott on campus also presented a unique opportunity for students to make an active change on campus without the administration, as Matthew Gibson commented, “There is something special about this school where every student can be involved in changing issues or problems. In a place as big as NYU [New York], the idea of changing something like the dining hall food is out of the question.”
This article was written by Isabella Farr. Please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to get in touch.
Photo Credit: Cafeteria Reform Committee