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Stirring the Pot: Inside Anti-Kantine's Campaign for Affordable Food at UvA

Anti-Kantine has made quite the name for itself: major protest, over 600 signatures on Change.Org, and successful implementation of the “basic meal” at UvA canteens. But what else is on the agenda for Anti-Kantine? In a recent interview, Noah Bisinger – one of the main organizers – told us more about the roots of the movement and what lies ahead.

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Anti-Kantine: What Is It & Why Should We Care?

Anti-Kantine was first established by a group of students during the last academic year (2022-23), who left a lasting impression by organizing a major protest, distributing free sandwiches to the entire student body. The efforts have not gone unnoticed by the university, with Anti-Kantine successfully implementing the “basic meal”– a budget-friendly vegetarian option at the UvA's canteens. Following last year’s protest, Anti-Kantine has remained committed to advocating for more sustainable and affordable food options. 

What else is on the agenda for Anti-Kantine? 

 

Continue reading for more insights!

 

Inter Times: What would you consider to be the most significant accomplishment of Anti-Kantine so far?

 

Noah: The biggest accomplishment last year would be the implementation of the basic meal. This year, during protest week, we really tried to show the canteen that creating healthy, vegetarian, affordable meals is possible. That’s why we prepared around 900 proper meals, which were below 900 EUR total budget. So, this year’s biggest achievement was not only about protesting, but about proving that the concept actually works.

Inter Times: You already successfully introduced a food discount with UvA’s subsidy last year. What are some changes you would still like to see in the future?

 

Noah: Well, we’d like for UvA to follow all our demands: make canteen food affordable, democratic, and sustainable. The basic meal was already a step in the right direction, but it is not our ideal solution. It’s not available all day and is still 5,50€, which is too expensive. With our protest this year we proved that it is possible to make meals with healthy and proper ingredients for only 2-3€.

Inter Times: What exactly does it mean for a canteen to be “democratic”

 

Noah: The canteen is part of the university, so the university students and staff should have a permanent say in how the canteen works as an institution. This is also why we’re planning on establishing a food board in the long-term, to merge this public/private divide.

 

Inter Times: How would you address the claims that cheaper canteen food is a luxury, not a necessity? Especially considering that there are alternative options, such as meal-prepping or going to grocery stores, why is maintaining affordable canteen food so crucial?

 

Noah: I think everyone will agree that food should be affordable, and everyone should be able to access it. There is a practical benefit in providing students the opportunity to get a proper meal at an affordable price - it also improves their life quality and academic performance, which is a win-win for the university. Some campuses do also not necessarily have quick access to grocery stores, so alternatives are not always feasible. I’ve also come across some comments framing this as an “international student problem”, which it isn’t. We have to keep in mind that a cheap canteen in most EU countries is quite normal. In Germany, for example, canteen food is heavily subsidized. But subsidizing food is not even necessary to have affordable options. The UvA used to have a communal canteen in the past as well, so it isn’t even a non-Dutch concept.

Student Activism vs. Student Politics: A Balancing Act

Anti-Kantine's success not only highlights the power of activist movements, but also raises questions about why students seem to be gravitating more towards activist movements over student politics, evident from the consistently low voter turnout in recent years. While activist movements certainly manage to bring a certain something to the table, they also lack the legitimacy inherent in student politics. So, which of the two is the true catalyst of change?

Inter Times: The protest last year was funded by the CSR. Could you walk us through the funding process and explain how exactly Anti-Kantine collaborates with the student council?

 

Noah: It is a pretty straight-forward process: You hand in the proposal to the CSR and then you negotiate. Last year’s impart co-founder, Titus, is in the student council this year. So, we do have a direct line with the CSR, which definitely helps. But I really want to emphasize that Anti-Kantine is by no means a CSR initiative and exists separately.

 

Inter Times: As a candidate for the CSR this year, what made you want to transition into student politics and what specific changes do you intend to make at UvA?

Noah: While working for informal associations, you can get a lot of things done, but I also found that you lack the power of making people listen to you. The university specifically is reluctant to listen to you if they don’t have to. The CSR on the other hand has a very direct power. If I get elected, I’ll of course do my best to make sure to implement Anti-Katine’s objectives to the best of my ability. I have also noticed a disconnect between the Dutch and international students, so another one of my goals would be to better connect the student body at UvA.

Inter Times: On the other side, do you think there are some objectives that can be more effectively pursued through activism rather than as an elected member of the student council?

 

Noah: Yes, for sure. Being in an activist group, you can be more flexible and more provocative, still within reasons of course. You do also not follow any specific procedures or guidelines, which makes it easier to mobilize people. Right now, there are around 250 volunteers in the group chat, which also applies pressure to the university. So, in that way it can also be more effective. But at the end of the day both are necessary.

Inter Times: Last Question: What is next for Anti-Kantine?

 

Noah: There are multiple things we are working on right now. The university is going to renew its contract for the current canteen in 2 years, so we’re in negotiations trying our best to turn it into a non-profit canteen. Right now, we are hoping to run a pilot for the non-profit canteen in the university in cooperation with the UvA. This is still in its baby steps, but it is our biggest focus in the imminent future. So, it’s safe to say, we’re just getting started.

Well, there you have it - Anti-Kantine is here, and it's here to stay. Building on the successes of last year, Anti-Kantine is persisting in its mission to make the UvA’s canteen more affordable, democratic, and sustainable. Through a combination of activism and strategic negotiation, Anti-Kantine stands as a prime example of how students can indeed bring tangible changes to the university. One thing remains abundantly clear: there's plenty more they can bring to the menu.

 

Stay with us for continuous updates on Anti-Kantine's journey!

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