Costs force rollback of YSFP expansion

Sustainability comes at a cost, and the recent trial expansion of the Yale Sustainable Food Project has been deemed too expensive to continue for now.

Starting Oct. 6, the residential college dining halls will scale back to one completely sustainable meal per week and at least one sustainable entrée at all other meals, according to Ernst Huff, associate vice president for Student Financial and Administrative Services. This will return the dining halls’ menus to last year’s format, Huff said.

A poster created by the Yale Sustainable Food Project stands in the Berkeley dining hall. University Dining Services will not continue the month-long trial expansion of YSFP.
Paul Needham
A poster created by the Yale Sustainable Food Project stands in the Berkeley dining hall. University Dining Services will not continue the month-long trial expansion of YSFP.

The trial expansion, which began at the start of the semester, has brought four entirely sustainable meals to dining halls each week and increased the availability of late-night sustainable offerings in Commons. The four sustainable meals in college dining halls have been Wednesday lunch, Thursday lunch and dinner, and Sunday brunch.

To accommodate this increase, chefs spent much of the summer developing new recipes that take advantage of locally grown and organic foods, Huff said.

But given budget constraints, University officials said, continuing the trial would pose too much of a risk to Dining Services’ fiscal health.

“We wanted to be prudent,” Huff said. “We will continue looking at the budget going forward. If it turns out that the budget picture starts to improve, perhaps we would offer additional project food.”

This year, Dining Services is seeing additional expenses due to the transition from Aramark, the private company which formerly managed the dining halls, to self-operation, Huff said. This change, in addition to other costs, has led administrators to the conclusion that they need to take precautions at this early stage in the year to ensure that no major budgetary problems emerge. Yale will switch completely to in-house management in the spring semester.

The YSFP rollback was initially reported by the Yale Herald on Friday.

Students involved in YSFP said the long-term goal of expanding the project is one which can still be achieved.

“I think YSFP is something that should be promoted and constantly expanded at Yale,” said Emily Casaretto ’09, food coordinator and former director of Food From the Earth, a student group that supports YSFP. “It would be nice if YSFP could expand immediately, but I understand the budget constraints. It takes time, and I’m willing to be patient.”

YSFP studies indicate that students are highly enthusiastic about the project and wish to see it expanded. According to its 2005 survey, 83 percent of students prefer YSFP offerings to the regular food, and 90 percent of students said that expansion of the program was either important or extremely important to them.

But not everyone on campus will miss the additional sustainable offerings. Some dining hall staffers criticized the program for being labor-intensive with a questionable payoff. As dining services has focused more on its sustainable offerings, the rest of its food has become less distinctive, some said.

“Now we have tons of chicken,” said one dining staffer who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak with the press. “Chicken 2,001 ways — I love chicken personally, but enough is enough. I don’t even see that many people eating the sustainable food when it’s here.”

Others have criticized the YSFP for a perceived lack of diversity in its own offerings. While few students complain to Dining Services about the YSFP menu, those complaints that do come in pertain to the project’s “limited variety,” Huff said.

Some students said they are indifferent as to their food’s origins, so long as it appeals to the taste buds.

“I don’t care whether the food is sustainable or not if it’s good,” Jeff Reitman ’08 said.

Sustainably Thinking, a group founded last semester by Anders Hsi ’08, is focused on researching and exploring students’ views on sustainability, including dining options. At its first meeting of the year on Sunday night in Calhoun College, the group committed itself to drafting a comprehensive strategy for Yale’s sustainability, Hsi said.

The group will focus its efforts this year in three areas: waste, food and outreach. The group’s members noted that other campus groups interested in sustainability are busy with implementation, while Sustainably Thinking hopes to provide big-picture guidance to those groups “from vision to implementation,” Hsi said.

One issue that Sustainably Thinking may address is YSFP’s role in making Yale more sustainable and potential ways to improve the project, Hsi said.

“There’s a lot of work to be done in recycling, for instance, and so we need to consider whether YSFP is an efficient use of resources. It’d probably be more efficient to reduce food waste than to increase YSFP offerings, for instance,” Hsi said.

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