Although students launched a petition this week to expand the Yale Sustainable Food Project, University officials said they do not anticipate any changes to the program’s budget for the coming year.
The student lobbying campaign has been bolstered by survey results showing that patrons support an expansion of the project, activists said. But officials said pressure on the University’s budget, which will be outlined in the next few weeks, will likely preclude any increase in funding. Though the survey, which was carried out by Yale University Dining Services, revealed that Yalies like their dining program slightly more than other university students, it also showed a perceived inequity in individual dining hall quality.
But given efforts to close a $25 million projected budget deficit this year, administrators said YSFP will not experience anything like the $1.25 million funding increase it received a year ago.
“Last year, a significant increase in the dining hall budget was approved to allow the expansion of fresh and local food offerings in all of the residential colleges,” Provost Andrew Hamilton said. “This coming year, the University budget is under considerable pressure, due to increased fuel and other prices as well as ongoing costs of this and other initiatives.”
Dining hall menus currently include approximately 25 percent sustainable food, but the Yale College Council and the student group Food from the Earth are campaigning to extend the full YSFP menu to all residential college dining facilities. Activists said they plan to collect signatures in all the dining halls by the end of the week, and the YCC will soon post the petition and a small survey online. The campaign collected more than 250 signatures in its first night, Food from the Earth petitioner Philip Gant ’09 said.
Any expansion of the project would be a victory, given the University’s financial situation, the petitioners said.
“With a budget deficit, the administration won’t act if it doesn’t have widespread student support,” said Wells O’Byrne ’07, a former YCC representative who is helping to lead the effort.
Activists said their case is supported by the survey’s finding that 42 percent of student residents feel expanding YSFP is “extremely important.”
The survey, which polled more than 2,000 patrons last fall, also showed that students rate their overall dining experience at five on a scale of one to seven — slightly higher than the national average and the same as last year.
“Overall, we were pretty pleased with the results,” Executive Director of Dining Services Don McQuarrie said. “We look forward to the University’s continued support of the different programs that we’ve established in dining.”
But the survey also showed that students still perceive an inequality between residential college dining halls. On a seven-point scale, the assessment of food quality in college facilities ranged from Morse’s 3.63 to Berkely’s 6.27, though there was a smaller difference between ratings of overall dining experiences. In general, Yalies rated food quality slightly below the national average.
O’Byrne said the survey confirms that providing better food is an important step in improving student dining experience.
“It’s not unexpected; it just confirms what was well-known among Yale students — that there’s a pretty big disparity in food quality among the residential colleges,” he said.
Officials said the perceived differences are more likely due to varying ambiences among dining halls, some of which have been renovated more recently than others.
Yale rated lowest compared to the national average in the “hours of operation” category, according to the survey results. Ernst Huff, associate vice president for Student Financial and Administrative Services, said the restricted hours are a result of Yale’s residential college system, which requires an inefficient use of dining hall resources.
“We have so many dining halls compared to the number of boarders that we have that our labor costs are high and our flexibility is limited,” Huff said.
Student petitioners said they hope to spur a YSFP expansion by citing the program’s role as a national leader in the sustainable food movement. As an Ivy League university with a reputation for activism, Yale has considerable influence on other schools, said Kirk Mustain, a dining manager who runs a similar program at the University of Portland.
But students should be careful what they wish for, Mustain said.
“They need to realize that in December they’re going to have a lot of squash, and they can’t be pissed off about it,” he said. “To me, as big a part of it is the education process.”
Huff said this was probably the last year that Yale will conduct a survey through ARAMARK, its current dining contractor. Next year, he said the University plans to design its own customized survey with input from the Yale College Council.