The provision of meals for employees is “a labor right, not a luxury,” the National Council of Science and Technology (Conacyt) said after news broke that it spent more than 15 million pesos to contract a gourmet catering company.
The science council said in a Twitter post that the staff dining room is an “achievement” of a collective labor agreement that Conacyt has “respected and strengthened by improving the quality of food” served.
According to a contract posted to a government transparency website, Conacyt hired Pigudi Gastronómico to provide mainly organic, low-fat, low-sugar breakfasts and lunches for 120 employees at its Mexico City office every working day from April 22 to December 31.
Among the ingredients it instructed the caterer to use are organic pork and chicken, salmon, red snapper, wild rice and organic apple vinegar.
Revelations of the science council’s extravagant spending on gourmet meals coincided with news that its public research centers are struggling to pay basic expenses as a result of budget cuts.
In a radio interview, Conacyt director María Elena Álvarez-Buylla denied that the council is forking out more than 15 million pesos (US $787,500) for the provision of meals, stating that the figure cited in the contract is a ceiling, or maximum amount, but in reality the catering costs will be much lower.
“In contrast to what has been disseminated, Conacyt has made provision for annual expenditure of 6 million pesos for the workers’ dining room service whereas the previous administration spent close to 12 million pesos for the same concept,” she said.
“Therefore, the information disseminated by some media outlets is unfortunately imprecise and distorted,” Álvarez-Buylla added.
The Conacyt chief asserted that meals served at the dining room are part of a “traditional Mexican diet,” adding that special care is taken not to use ingredients that could contain toxins.
“By no means is it a gourmet service . . . They are [meals] that we should all be eating,” she said. “We’re promoting a healthy diet not an elitist one, it’s a constitutional right.”