Salad bars will lack staples like green beans and peppers in coming weeks as Yale Dining works to reconfigure its menus in light of a national produce shortage.
Due to unusual freezing and flooding of crop fields across the United States and Mexico, there have been severe shortages of items such as squash, zucchini and eggplant across North America. Silliman chef Stu Comens, who is also the interim executive chef for Yale Dining, said he went through all the upcoming recipes, finding substitute ingredients for unavailable vegetables or changing menus altogether. No matter what they do, though, dining officials said they cannot change the inferior quality of the ingredients currently available.
“The problem with the produce is not that we can spend a lot of money and get good produce,” said Paul Corvino, the assistant dining hall manager for Saybrook and Branford who oversees ordering and production. He said that even for a high price, much of the affected produce is “nothing you want to eat.”
The impact of the shortages will hit the dining halls this week and will likely last until spring break, according to Gerry Remer, Yale Dining Assistant Director of Supply Management. She added that in order to ensure there are enough vegetables at meals, Dining will compensate for the unavailable produce with some frozen or canned vegetables, as well as with more of available products such as broccoli.
FLOODS AND FREEZING
Yale receives most of its fresh fruits and vegetables from food distributor Fresh Point, which has been working with the University to deal with the produce shortage.
David Yandow, the executive vice president of Fresh Point, said that the shortage is especially acute because freezes in Florida in December forced people to turn to the “secondary market” of Western states and Mexico, and then floods and freezing destroyed those markets in early February. This has left only what Yandow described as “second-rate crops with quality shortages.”
He said that the shortage has been affecting restaurants and food suppliers across the country, and will likely continue for about a month.
“We’re looking at taking in produce that we wouldn’t ordinarily take in,” he said, since only inferior quality items are available at the moment.
However, he says Fresh Point notified its clients of this change, and they are deciding how to proceed on an individual basis. Yale and many others are simply adjusting menus as necessary, he said.
Remer explained that even though Yale buys most of its produce domestically, the fact that produce from Mexico was destroyed has a big impact on the produce market.
“All of these [flood and freezes] have really put a lot of pressure on the market,” she said.
Comens said that while it would be possible to order better fresh produce from countries such as Chile, for sustainability reasons Yale does not transport food from so far away.
Most items can still be found for a high price, but the quality is far from ideal, Comens said. He added that some items, like cucumbers and green beans, are almost impossible to get at the moment.
REPLANNING YALE’S MENUS
Dining officials said they have had to scramble to redesign menus for the coming weeks, but students should not notice too substantial a difference between offerings.
“Other than the salad bar where you’ll see almost no tomatoes and cucumbers, we’ve made adjustments so it will be relatively low impact,” said Gerry Remer, Yale Dining assistant director of supply management.
Still, the vegetables will not be top-notch. Comens said that the dining halls have tried to order expensive tomatoes to deal with winter shortages in the past, but students did not want to eat them because they were still of poor quality.
Comens said he spent about 10 hours last Friday revising Yale’s menu for the next month.
For every menu item that had a hard-to-get ingredient, he either found substitute vegetables or decided to eliminate the recipe and substitute a different dish. For instance, he said he can substitute different fresh or frozen vegetables in and out of quiches and vegetable medleys, or use canned tomatoes instead of fresh tomatoes in soups. While he said this is not ideal, he added that he was satisfied with the quality of a variety of canned and frozen produce items that will soon be served to students.
But some dishes had to go altogether. For example, penne pasta with zucchini has been replaced with cheese ravioli. He added that he is waiting to see how students receive the revised recipes.
“We are curious to see how some of the recipes will come out, they may even taste better,” he said. “Hopefully some good things will come out of this.”
The salad bar was the hardest issue to address, Comens said, since it largely consist of produce.
Corvino said he and the other college dining hall managers all plan to stick to the revised menu Comens planned. However, he said that between different dining halls, the salad bars may be different based on what produce items each can get, and what people have left in their fridges.
Five out of six students interviewed said they are disappointed by news of the national produce shortages, but understand that Dining cannot do anything to change the situation.
Raja Pillai ’12 said he has not noticed major changes yet, but that he often eats from the salad bar and will miss some of the fresh vegetables there.
“It’s unfortunate, but they have to do what they have to do,” he said.
Last semester, Yale Dining ordered 25,000 cucumbers and 18,000 pounds of green beans.
Correction: February 16, 2011
An earlier version of this article incorrectly reported the gender of Gerry Remer, Yale Dining Assistant Director of Supply Management. The News regrets the error.