Position paper on canteens, cafeterias and water

Generation 2004 is aware of the difficulties the pandemic has imposed on the canteen staff and facilities and appreciates the contrast in simultaneously welcoming the gradual re-opening of canteens and cafeterias in Brussels while canteens in Luxembourg begin to require a Covid certificate (for sit-in, not for take away [1][2], from 1 November). The canteen and cafeteria in Ispra have, of course, been open now for several months (limited seating, regular cleaning and a take-away option), but we’ve not had an update from our Karlsruhe-based coffee addict who was desperate for the cafeteria there to reopen.

Cafeterias and canteens are important meeting points and places where colleagues can exchange and socialise in an informal atmosphere and this aspect significantly contributes to staff members’ well-being at work and consequently to their mental health. Human beings need adapted areas to sit together, talk and exchange in an appropriate and pleasant environment. Especially in wintertime when outside weather conditions do not always allow for going for a walk together.

Canteens and especially cafeterias play a particular role in socialising after the 18 months of constant teleworking period. Where the only coffee available is not so good, staff and teams often purchase their own capsule machines: bad both for networking and for the environment . Many colleagues reported to us that where cafeterias were still closed there is no space for cosy meetings in smaller groups. Generation 2004 would like to recall how important it is for staff members to connect.

The pandemic and full-time teleworking showed the importance of friendship and the need for connection (Nadia Fol, Head of the Psychosocial Sector in the Medical Service in Brussels)

DG HR’s pulse surveys show that one of the main reasons colleagues want to come back to the office is to have direct contact with their peers. Therefore, cafeterias and also canteens must be considered and equipped as places where colleagues have a protected area for chats and – many times – cosy discussions.

Having said that we have to consider another crucial aspect which contributes to physical well-being:

Eating healthy food every day.

This aspect is even more crucial nowadays, when it has been proven that eating in a healthier way boosts the immune system and a strong immune system helps in fighting disease. Ideally good, healthy food should also be affordable, but we acknowledge that this is frequently not the case [2]. Generation 2004 considers that there is large room for improvement here. Let us define, firstly what ‘healthy’ food means. Healthy food is primarily freshly on-the-spot prepared and unprocessed food. It also means cutting back on refined grains, additives, preservatives, unhealthy fats and large amounts of added sugar. Moreover, avoiding highly refined foods with ingredients you would need a lab technician to help you pronounce. In addition, of course, the higher the share of organic ingredients in our nutrition, the healthier it is (unfortunately, this also often significantly increases the price). High quality food serves to provide the body with the necessary daily vital substances, the s-called nutrients (vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates etc.) to boost the immune system and consequently to preserve good health and prevent many lifestyle diseases.

‘You are what you eat’ – food quality

As to the quality of food offered in the different Commission premises Generation 2004 wants to remind the Commission that it is absolutely essential to negotiate with any future contractors on the need to improve the quality of food by:

  • reducing the amount of additives, preservatives, refined grains and flavouring materials,
  • reducing the amount of unhealthy fats and using instead high quality olive OIL whenever possible,
  • increasing the percentage and variety of organic food,
  • avoiding additional amounts of sugar in the food,
  • offering a wider variety of vegetarian and vegan food,
  • increasing the use of seasonal fruits and vegetables,
  • offering a reasonable choice of pulses (lentils, chickpeas, beans, peas).

As to the vending machines which – according to Office for Infrastructure and Logistics Brussels (OIB) – should be rolled out in Commission buildings as of January 2022, what we have seen so far is that vending machines offer highly processed convenience food which has to be reheated. This type of food combined with the use of microwaves has nothing to do with healthy nutrition habits. On the contrary, to reduce alternative healthier options and encourage colleagues to eat this type of food is quite irresponsible, from a well-being point of view.

The Commission, as the employer of more than 32000 staff should be particularly sensitive to their well-being by offering the best possible catering services, by being a role model and by providing staff healthy options

Concerning the rumours circulating about installing food trucks in front of some Commission buildings Generation 2004 welcomes a constructive discussion on this topic. On the one hand yes, it’s a creative idea to offer fresh food via dedicated food trucks. But will these really be that type of food truck, or are they more likely to be serving fast food and items of questionable nutritional value. Have the fit@work team medical service given their input? If the idea of food trucks is implemented well it may well be a complementary means for staff to buy quality food at the different Commission buildings. To ensure that, Generation 2004 asks OIB to take particular care by selecting food truck providers that:

  • offer fresh and to the largest possible extent unprocessed food.
  • offer a variety of choices including organic, vegetarian and vegan food (different types of salads, vegetables, pulses).
  • if providing desserts it should be ensured that there are plant-based, organic alternatives with no additional sugar.

However, on the other hand, Generation 2004 does not consider food trucks to be a long-term viable alternative to cafeterias and canteens for several reasons: e.g. the lack of a dedicated space where the food can be consumed in a pleasant area while socialising with others. Also queuing outside in the wintertime is not a comfortable and productive way to spend the lunch break. It has also been reported that food trucks often have difficulty in maintaining safe food standards, and where do they sit? At the entrance to the building? A further aspect is the price. We strongly doubt that colleagues with a lower salary (especially contract agents (CAs), ASTs and AST/SCs) can afford to buy the food offered by food trucks.

The issue of inflated prices is already evident in the L107 (The ONE) cafeteria, offering pre-packaged soups for €4.5 and salads for €9. And packaged pasta Bolognese from the vending machine for €5.90, also how convenient are these meals when you then have to queue for the microwave and, as below, are we allowed to eat ‘al desko’, particularly when that desk is not yours and will soon be used by someone else?

Well-being at work is not only about an ergonomic chair and yoga or Pilates classes at lunchtime. Well-being at work is much more about fresh, healthy and appealing food in a pleasant area (some canteens have been very nicely renovated in the past, such as in the PMO building and in Beaulieu-9).

Additionally, in line with the action plan for the Commission to become climate neutral by 2030 (‘Greening the Commission‘), the use of single-use plastics, bottles, cans and containers should be avoided wherever possible, which, by the way, might be another argument against food trucks, which in most cases serve their food in disposable packaging, unless, of course, the Commission plans to sign up to a system using reusable packaging as it has in  Luxembourg. It must be noted here though that in the context of the global pandemic, many were and are nervous about reusing items:

‘Across Europe and elsewhere, the novel coronavirus outbreak has led many states, cities, and stores to suddenly delay and/or reverse bans on single-use items, and in some cases even prohibit reusables out of fears that they contribute to the spread of the pandemic.’ (Zero Waste Europe, Reusable Packaging and COVID-19: Policy Paper – June 2020)

In order to lead the way towards more sustainable, environmentally responsible behaviours, Generation 2004 calls on the Commission to make available and actively promote the consumption of food served with regular, non-disposable tableware and to install water fountains in all buildings.

Therefore, Generation 2004 calls on the OIB to take these points into consideration and to:

  • provide high quality, healthy food available to all, with vegetarian and vegan options: improve the quality of food offered through the different contractors in canteens and cafeterias along the abovementioned points.
  • price food in order to allow all categories of staff to enjoy a decent meal, especially for the lowest-paid categories, as is done in Luxembourg (CAs, AST/SCs, etc.).
  • be selective when choosing especially new tools for catering and take away.
  • equip all buildings with water fountains, proportional to the staff intended to work there, evenly distributed across floors, to reduce the amount of plastic waste and encourage consumption of water throughout the day (The ONE has a fountain on the 22nd floor (is this a way to get your 10000 steps?) and the use of plastic watercoolers is being discontinued throughout the Commission.

As always, we would love to hear from you. Please do not hesitate to contact us or leave a comment below.

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[1] The OIL instructions state the need to present a digital covid certificate. This does not mean digital format: paper is also good, though we do see where misunderstandings might arise from this.

An EU Digital COVID Certificate is a digital proof…digital and/or paper format.
The digital version can be stored on a mobile device. Citizens can also request a paper version. Both will have a QR code that contains essential information, as well as a digital signature to make sure the certificate is authentic. Member States have agreed on a common design that can be used for the electronic and paper versions to facilitate the recognition.’

[2] There appears to be an ongoing debate as to whether we can eat at our desks. The Brussels committee for health and safety at work (CPPT) states that it is not allowed (though DGCOMP appears to disagree and the European School of Administration too). The CPPT states that the environment for eating/drinking should be provided and be adequate in dimension, equipment, and placement (not being close to areas where people work (for open space)). The ONE (L107) has only around 120 seating places for a building hosting 1300 people (workstations). Kitchen with a few more uncomfortable sitting place (high stools) at a long table plus 1 smaller side table. Not really cosy and “confidential”, e.g. to have a chat with just one colleague or two.

[2] Luxembourg has different prices in canteens depending on staff category, does this happen anywhere else? Please let us know! (See also Point 4. Mesures sociales prévues pour le personnel à faible revenu).

2 thoughts on “Position paper on canteens, cafeterias and water

  1. Thank you for your efforts regarding food quality. I was surprised to see a deterioration in this regard compared to even JMO – for instance, in BECH they only sell nectars with added sugar (I remember in other buildings, one could always buy real juices). Also, I remember the solid salad bar in JMO – nothing of that kind in BECH – hopefully the reason being the pandemic and hygiene requirements.

  2. Thanks very much for getting in touch with Generation 2004. We too hope that this current reduced offer is due to the pandemic, but we are keeping watch to see what happens whenever presence in the office increases, watch this space! (And please get back to us if you notice that this is not changing!)

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