I found Wholefoods in my second year at Monash in 2007, and immediately fell in love. With the people, the atmosphere, the low-cost food, the couches that used to be on the balcony, and with the idea that a restaurant could be student-run, volunteer-based and collectively organised, even in this corporate day and age.
The previous year I’d spent most of my free time between classes sitting alone in a little aerie on the fifth floor of the Menzies Building, taciturn and isolated. One year later at Wholefoods I was constantly surrounded by friends and always meeting new people. I’ve made so many enduring friendships at Wholefoods that I can hardly imagine what my life would be like without it.
Yet the possibility of Monash without Wholefoods looms ominously on the horizon.
Over the last six years the Monash Student Association (MSA) executives – all from the student political group Go! – have progressively stripped the Wholefoods Collective of all decision-making power to the point where they have none remaining. Yet according to the Wholefoods and MSA constitutions, the Collective is meant to be a part of all decisions involving the restaurant.
The Wholefoods Collective is the nucleus that holds the Wholefoods community together, and an empowered and autonomous Collective is necessary to safeguard the principle that Wholefoods should cater to student interests, rather than those of the profit-obsessed MSA and Monash University administrations.
Volunteers are equally as essential, not only because they keep food prices down by reducing the need for paid workers, but because students are much more likely to eat and spend time at Wholefoods if they feel like a part of the restaurant and an active ingredient in what makes it so special. However, at the start of this year, Monash Student Council dissolved the Wholefoods volunteer program for reasons with no discernable logic.
Every decision the MSA Executives have made over the objections of the Wholefoods Collective seem to negatively impact the viability of Wholefoods as a business, threaten its ethos, and alienate its customer base. As a result, Wholefoods has made a greater and greater loss each year since 2007. And yet the MSA executives have the gall to blame the Collective for declining profits.
In the second edition of Lot’s Wife 2012, the MSA President informed us that she is negotiating for $200,000 to ‘redevelop’ Wholefoods. This idea makes me fall into a deep dark whirlpool of sorrow. But it also makes me angry enough to do something about it. And I know there are lots of you out there who feel the same way.
A group has already formed calling themselves Friends of Wholefoods, dedicated to saving Wholefoods and reasserting its core values. They will be distributing a zine entitled The Whole Story, which contains a detailed recent history of Wholefoods restaurant, and maintaining a blog at savewholefoods.com (as well as many other activities), all in an effort to get enough signatories for a petition to hold a Student General Meeting about this issue.
All of us who care about Wholefoods must get involved or what we care about will wither and die. A Student General Meeting has the power to direct Monash Student Council to reinstate the Wholefoods Collective with operational and administrative control of Wholefoods.
This has happened before. In 1997-98, Monash Student Council abolished the Wholefoods Collective and volunteer system, and re-wrote the constitution. But then, as now, a group called Friends of Wholefoods rose up. They organised a Student General Meeting to make the student body heard, and the spirit of Wholefoods was saved.
We can do this. History is on our side.