Rising food costs affect students at both home and in the cafeteria on campus

Lauren J. Mapp

The recent increases in food costs across the country have caused changes in food services at Mesa College in the form of menu item losses in the cafeteria. If food costs continue to rise, this may result in a replacement of fresh vegetables with frozen ones.

A loss of food choices in the cafeteria is no new occurrence at San Diego Mesa College. A few years ago the cafeteria offered both a made-to-order pasta station and a build-your-own salad bar. The cafeteria’s hours of operation have also decreased due to budget cuts in the state of California and within the San Diego Community College District (SDCCD).

San Diegans and the rest of the nation have already seen an increase in the costs of produce, dairy products and meat in supermarkets and restaurants alike. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has predicted that the costs of food will rise between 3 and 4 percent by the end of the year, according to The Financial Times. For the SDCCD’s cafeteria and food services programs these increases have resulted in the loss of some produce items from the menu.

The steadily increasing cost of food across the nation can be attributed to a variety of factors but one of the biggest causes is connected with corn produced in the country. Corn being used for ethanol production has increased and the land that was previously farmed for crops especially corn, wheat and soybeans has decreased, causing a smaller edible yield per acre of farmland. The use of corn for ethanol has also lessened the availability of corn as a cheap food source for livestock, consequently causing a rise in the cost of meat and dairy products.

Other causes for the food price increase include the rising costs of oil which makes shipping food more expensive and a cold front in Mexico that frosted over crops. According to The Packer, a produce industry newspaper, the freeze in Mexico killed crops and stunted the growth of many vegetables, especially tomatoes, cucumbers and winter squashes. All of these factors have decreased the amount of produce available on the market and raised the cost of those goods that are available.

The rising food costs are causing changes in the way the Mesa cafeteria serves some of its menu items. Food Service Supervisor Aaron Trapp stated that “the vegetables we’ve experienced and I’ve seen as being the hardest hit have been the tomatoes, the eggplant, cucumbers, the bell peppers and especially the squash. We use zucchini, and just to give you an example, the price of those zucchinis has almost tripled in the last three weeks.”

To avoid having to switch over to frozen vegetables, cafeteria workers are instructed to ask whether or not a customer wants a tomato slice on a burger or sandwich instead of automatically including it. Squash, zucchini, and eggplant will be off the menu until prices begin to decrease again. Trapp is also looking into cheaper produce vendors in order to continue purchasing vegetables despite their high mark-up.

rise in food costs has also affected M Fusion Café and The Mesa Supper Club, two food service programs run by the students and faculty in the Culinary Arts and Culinary Management (CACM) program at Mesa. The result has been a 15 percent rise in the prices on their menus this semester.

Assistant Professor Michael Fitzgerald in the CACM department stated that the price of many food items has “…doubled and tripled in price, giving students less opportunity in training because we’re not able to get the products in”. An example of the price increases, the cost of butter has risen from $55 a case last year to $88 a case at present, a 63 percent increase.

In response to the cafeteria’s potential switch to frozen vegetables, Fitzgerald stated that “They’re almost in a non-profit, institutional manner and unfortunately their budget is their budget. There is [the option] either to not provide it or provide a substitute and if I wasn’t in an academic training program I would have done the same thing.”