The Office of the President
The University of Toronto
27 King's College Circle
Toronto ON M5S 1A1
July 12, 2019
Dear President Gertler,
As University of Toronto students, we commend UofT for its commitment to diversity and inclusion, and the many significant steps UofT has taken on this front. Regarding food options on campus, Dining Services has provided for a large variety of dining needs, including vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, dairy-free, and most recently Halal. However, the remaining food need that is not provided by the university is kosher food. As such, we write to you to express our concern about the lack of kosher food on the University of Toronto's campus. There is no kosher food in the residences, no kosher food vendors on campus, and the only kosher food provided by the university is specially ordered meals at university events -- which sometimes do not arrive on time.
We believe the University of Toronto loses much by not providing kosher food. First, because there is no kosher food on campus, UofT is losing Jewish students to other neighboring schools such as York, Queen’s, Western, etc. Regardless of their personal observance, a university's providing kosher food is a signal to Jewish potential students that they are considered, supported and provided for. In the last 15 years or so, other local schools and reputable international schools have increased their attention to Jewish students needs, and UofT's reputation among the local Jewish community has had a downturn.
Second, as a diversity, equity, and inclusion issue, Jewish students with kosher food needs are unable to take advantage of UofT's extensive opportunities. They cannot live in residence, which either requires a food plan currently lacking any kosher options or which includes a kitchen that cannot be kept kosher when used with roommates who do not keep kosher. They cannot purchase food on campus in between classes, because there are no kosher food vendors, and so their time on campus is marked by food uncertainty. They have difficulty participating in student life opportunities through events and programs because each department and organization is responsible for making their own arrangements for kosher food. Unfortunately, kosher food options are sometimes not included in registration or, if they are included, they do not make it to the event itself. Indeed, accessibility is a key value of the university, but on this issue, the University of Toronto is failing to meet the needs of Jewish students.
As a comparison, other local schools do provide kosher options. York University has maintained a kosher restaurant on campus for many years, issuing a call for proposals specifically for a kosher food provider and maintaining that restaurant. Two years ago McMaster University began offering kosher meals at its student centre and is currently investigating other ways of incorporating kosher food into its offerings. Schools of UofT's caliber in the United States offer vastly more. Harvard, as an example, has a kosher dining hall that is part of the meal plan system and an on-site kosher catering that provides kosher meals for any university event that requires them. Each residence's own dining hall has a fridge containing ready-made kosher meals as well as clearly labeled options for packaged food that is certified kosher -- all part of the meal plan. Harvard only has an estimated 400-700 Jewish undergraduate students, compared to estimates of 1000-1500 Jewish undergraduate students at the University of Toronto.
We want the university to understand that the Jewish community of Toronto, through Hillel at the University of Toronto, has been providing the kosher food that the university lacks. Hillel serves kosher dinners at a subsidized cost Monday through Thursday throughout the school year, 15-20 Shabbat and holiday meals per year, plus dozens of event lunches. Hillel also provides snacks throughout the year in the Hillel lounge, knowing that there are no kosher food options explicitly provided on campus. The cost of all these meals are borne by the Jewish community and the students themselves.
We would like to see a more robust support of kosher food on the University of Toronto's campus -- for the Jewish students on campus, for students in general who want to feel proud of their university's commitment to inclusion and accessibility, and for the University of Toronto itself to be able to attract the best and the brightest, regardless of religious background.
We would like to request a meeting with yourself to discuss this important issue at your earliest convenience. We will phone in 10 days to inquire about questions and confirm a meeting date.
We thank you for your attention to this issue and look forward to discussing it further.
By Sofia Freudenstein, Undergraduate Student and Chaim Grafstein, PhD Student