Education

After protests and hunger strike, University of Kentucky opens $1 lunch cafe

$1 lunches offered at UK’s One Community Cafe

UK students line up for $1 lunches at the One Community Cafe in Erickson Hall. The cafe opened in response to student protests and a hunger strike last week designed to bring more attention to food and housing insecurity on campus.
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UK students line up for $1 lunches at the One Community Cafe in Erickson Hall. The cafe opened in response to student protests and a hunger strike last week designed to bring more attention to food and housing insecurity on campus.

A steady stream of students climbed the stairs of Erickson Hall at lunchtime Wednesday to visit the latest in the University of Kentucky’s steady stream of new restaurants.

This one, though, is decidedly different from the sushi, the French crepes, the Chik-fil-A and the gourmet salad bars. The One Community Cafe has just one offering per day and costs just $1 per offering.

Today, lunch is pulled pork barbecue, coleslaw, roasted potatoes and a banana, and according to junior Carly Martindale, “it’s really good.”

The One Community Cafe (formerly Fusion Cafe) opened Monday, the product of a student protest and hunger strike last week designed to bring more attention to food and housing insecurity on campus. With a UK student ID, students can buy lunch; for $2 they can take home another meal for dinner.

All the meals have an entree and two sides, and vegan options are available. The cafe is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

UK President Eli Capilouto also agreed to fund and hire a full-time employee who deals with students’ food and housing insecurity, and he has worked with Aramark, UK’s food provider, to make more free meal-plan swipes at dining halls available for students who need them.

The cafe was not one of the protesters’ demands, but UK decided to open it anyway. Spokesman Jay Blanton said the cafe is being funded by UK and Aramark, and they will use the last four weeks of school to gauge how much it will cost in the future.

A lack of affordability is a relatively recent topic at UK, and has appeared to burgeon out of a slew of new housing and dining halls with top-notch food and accommodations, on top of tuition that has risen steadily since about 2005 in the wake of state budget cuts.

UK administrators said they were surprised by a recent survey that found 43 percent of students had dealt with food insecurity, but pledged to do more to help them.

“I don’t know if they (UK administrators) didn’t know students struggled with food insecurity, but with all the news about student debt loads, you can’t plead ignorance,” Martindale said. “I was surprised the protests worked.”

Senior Eric Poore, who was eating at the cafe Wednesday, said he appreciates having a low-cost food option.

“It’s a good idea,” he said. “Sometimes, you can just have trouble making ends meet so this is nice.”

Between 130 and 160 students have shown up each day this week, officials said.

Harris, who is using student loans to fund most of her postgraduate work before she applies to medical school, said campus meals can cost up to $10 a pop if you live off campus and don’t have a meal plan.

“I can’t spend $10 multiple times a week for lunch,” Harris said. “I’m really thankful the university is acknowledging that students need a cheaper option to eat on campus.”

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