Dining halls endure shortages

Produce trucks getting stuck in the snow. A romanesco crop ravaged by deer.

For Yale Dining Services administrators, these problems are just business as usual.

Although there is a shortage of oranges, Gourmet Heaven has not increased the price of its orange juice.
Blair Benham-Pyle
Although there is a shortage of oranges, Gourmet Heaven has not increased the price of its orange juice.

Fluctuating prices and varying availability of certain foods create challenges for YDS, as well as local food retailers and restaurants, but they said they have had little difficulty in keeping their food offerings consistent.

Because of a nationwide shortage of oranges, the average price of a gallon of orange juice is 14 percent more expensive this year than last year, according to an article recently published in the New York Times. The price hike is a consequence of a significantly reduced orange crop — an estimated 135 million boxes this year instead of the more than 200 million boxes produced in past years — caused by a string of hurricanes that decimated Florida’s harvest and also affected tomato and grapefruit supplies.

Karen Dougherty, director of communications for Yale Dining Services, and Thomas Peterlik, director of the Culinary Resource Center, said in a joint e-mail that the orange and grapefruit shortages have not affected Yale’s dining hall offerings, and YDS is prepared to deal with the frequent fluctuations in food price and availability it encounters.

“We’re food services professionals — dealing with price fluctuations and product availability is what [we’re] trained to do,” Dougherty and Peterlik said.

Local retailers have also been unaffected, and most proprietors were unaware of any shortages. Only Mohammed Masaud, manager of Gourmet Heaven, had heard about the diminished orange production, but he said that the increased cost of certain foods will not be passed on to his customers.

“Unless there’s a big change in the price of a food, we don’t change our prices,” Masaud said. “Right now we have not changed any prices, and I don’t think we will.”

When foods are unavailable or particularly expensive, YDS will try to compromise by offering the more expensive food less frequently or, in drastic cases, taking the food off the menu entirely, Dougherty and Peterlik said.

“Complete menu removal [is] used when [the] product is simply unavailable or priced exorbitantly,” they said.

This year, there have been two instances during which foods were completely removed from YDS menus. In September, YDS stopped offering spinach for a month when fresh spinach was recalled as a result of an E. coli contamination. And when hurricanes Ernesto and John damaged tomato crops in early September, YDS stopped offering fresh tomatoes at the deli and salad bars until prices became more reasonable and crop quality improved. The tomato hiatus lasted about seven weeks.

But Sezgin Ilitli, who works at A-1 Pizza, said the pizzeria was not affected by the tomato shortage though the use a great deal of tomatoes.

“I remember hearing about the tomato problem,” Ilitli said. “It has not hurt us or made us change prices yet, and I hope it doesn’t in the future.”

Local eateries might be resilient to food shortage problems even when they don’t know about them, but YDS handles these problems “daily,” Dougherty and Peterlik said. It is YDS’ job to swiftly find a solution so that people eating in the dining halls can find the foods they expect to see, they said.

“Most of the time, customers are completely unaware of the juggling we and our vendor partners have done,” they said.

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