‘Canteens need to be cheaper’

Canteen Dialogue reveals the dilemmas and clarifies the issues.
Bitterballen met schaaltje mosterd Photo Shutterstock

There is plenty that needs improving in the campus canteens, but one aspect in particular stands out: the prices. Sure, it’s important to have plant-based dishes. Sustainability is a good thing too. Reducing food waste is a priority and there should be more cooperation with local producers. But those prices…

‘Seven years ago, I met up with friends in The Spot for a meal. A hot meal cost me 3.50 euros back then. The food was too salty and the quality poor, but even so,’ says an older student. ‘Since then, the prices have gone up and up, whereas the quality is as bad as ever. So we’ve stopped coming.’ ‘Why,’ someone else wants to know, ‘does WUR have the most expensive soup in the country? How is that possible? Has anyone ever looked into this?’


The assortment on offer in the canteens is a big issue for a lot of people. That prompted Wageningen Dialogues to organize a session on the subject. The ‘Bitterbal Dialogue’, a reference to the traditional Dutch meat croquette snack, drew around 50 people to Impulse to discuss the food on campus. The attendees included representatives of the WUR canteens. The caterers also want to keep the food on offer affordable, but what counts as affordable?

WUR excels in nutrition but I don’t see that excellence reflected in the food on offer on campus

comment during the Bitterbal Dialogue

The discussion moderator Simone Ritzer decided to put this to the test. What is an acceptable price for a cup of coffee? Most people present thought two euros was the maximum. A bread roll and a drink for lunch: 3 to 3.50 euros. A big lunch: 5.50 euros. Most people think a hot meal should cost 6.50 euros at most. But the prices on campus are generally higher than that.


In addition to affordable, the food on campus should definitely be sustainable. Advocates of a plant-based university think that means all food on offer should be plant-based. But how does that fit with WUR’s guiding principle of being inclusive, asked one person. What about the meat eaters? And what about freedom of choice? ‘You don’t just eat food on campus; you have plenty of choice in what you eat off campus,’ was the response. ‘After all, we have to start somewhere.’

Here in the middle of the Food Valley, you’d expect a dynamic food culture with a lot of variety

comment during the Bitterbal Dialogue

There was also criticism of WUR’s procurement procedure for the catering services. ‘WUR excels in nutrition but I don’t see that excellence reflected in the food on offer on campus,’ remarked one attendee. ‘Given that we are in the middle of the Food Valley, you would expect a dynamic food culture with a lot of variety. But in practice, the caterer has a monopoly.’ ‘Why not do more with grassroots initiatives and local produce?’ added someone else.

Food and Beverage contract manager Marcha Sperna Weiland (Facilities & Services) listened attentively to the comments. WUR’s position document on canteens is only due for an update in two years’ time, but she certainly has plenty of new ingredients to consider.

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