Market Shortages and Food Waste in Commons

Fernando Rojas, Contributing Writer

On Thursday, Oct. 21, crispitos were available for the first time this semester. 

Of course I was buzzing with excitement. It is, without a doubt, one of my top three favorite meals that Commons offers. And quite honestly, I would not have been that excited if I did not have to wait 54 days for its first appearance. 

Since my freshman year, crispitos were consistently in the menu cycle. Even last fall, Dining, Conferences, and Campus Events (DCCE) scaled back the menu cycle from five to three weeks, but they were still available frequently.

When I realized this absence in the middle of September, I inquired about crispito availability during a meeting for Bates Commons Healthy Eating and Wellness Society (CHEWS). Director of Dining, Cheryl Lacey, informed the committee that manufacturers have limited their product selection to accommodate for the ongoing nationwide market shortages. Consequently, certain items in Commons have been difficult or completely unavailable to purchase and have needed to be replaced. 

Notable examples are the substitution of santa fe rolls for crispitos, baked potatoes for potato skins, and the elimination of chicken focaccia, which has been discontinued by the manufacturer. Other foods include pork products, many fish selections, bakery items like graham crackers and baking flour, and cereals such as Lucky Charms (which will soon be out of stock indefinitely). In addition to food products, Commons is having difficulty in finding replacements for black mugs, large black bowls, soup cups, cereal bowls, and plates. This is a problem that will affect everyone if people continue to take serviceware out of the Commons for their personal use. 

The pandemic’s effect on the availability of various food products, labor availability and overall productivity caused Commons to begin this year’s process of obtaining food in mid-July. DCCE started working with vendors to confirm quantities of product needed for our five-week cycle menu. Once vendors reviewed the data and confirmed availability of products, additional storage locations on campus were then secured to receive shelf stable items such as chemicals, cereals, flour, sugar, paper products, dishware replacements, etc. 

On a daily basis, staff purchase orders with as many as ten different vendors while dealing with shipments of 500 to 800 cases of product. However, the unpredictable nature of vendors unable to fill orders is causing this to be shortened to 50 plus cases of product per delivery, forcing menu changes because of insufficient product availability. Oftentimes, Commons is unaware if certain items are missing until the shipment from the trucks is received.

Across the board, prices have increased as much as 25% for certain products. This is caused by processing difficulties for manufacturers, decreases in labor, transportation issues, increasing fuel costs and other factors. Other colleges have been forced to cut foods from their menu because of these substantial increases. For example, Bowdoin College removed bacon from their menu this school year. 

Both Cheryl Lacey and the Associate Vice President for DCCE Christine Schwartz express how managing the impact of the market shortage is no easy task because the situation is inconsistent and unpredictable. 

However, an added pressure comes from within our school culture. Food is constantly wasted whenever people spill food while serving themselves or take more than they can eat. Accidents occur or people do not like what they have on their plate, and that is understandable. I’ve seen people throwing away unopened yogurt containers, whole pieces of fruit or pizza, or untouched bagels. This creates unnecessary additional waste and it increases the amount of food that needs to be purchased, making our market shortage situation worse. 

This upcoming month, CHEWS’s theme for Commons is No-Waste November. We are partnering with the Environmental Coalition and the Bates Student Government to inform the student body about how much food is being wasted and ways you can be part of the solution to this problem.

DCCE and CHEWS appreciate everyone’s patience and support during these difficult times. Please lessen the burden by being mindful of your food wasting actions.