Dining halls deal with rising food costs

Rising fuel costs and the use of corn for ethanol production are adding up to serious spikes in food prices. Food prices have increased by 75 percent since 2005, according to a Dec. 6 Economist article. The steep rise in the cost of food is known as agflation, and its ramifications are being felt by the managers of USF’s dining halls.

“We have seen an increase in food costs across the board,” said Tom Williamson, USF Dining Services resident district manager. He said the largest increases have been in the costs of meats, produce and dairy products.

Williamson said one of the causes for inflated costs is the use of corn products to feed livestock. Associate Professor in the Department of Geology Rick Oches added that corn crops are also increasingly being used for ethanol production.

“That reduces the amount of corn available for food production and animal feed, causing the prices to rise on that commodity,” he said.

Another cause for the spike in prices, Oches said, is the increase in energy costs over the past year as the price of oil has skyrocketed.

It takes a lot of energy to plant, grow, harvest, process and transport food, especially given today’s intensively mechanized agricultural practices and the long-distance transportation of food, Oches said. Those increased energy costs get passed along to the consumer as increased food prices.

“The average distance that food travels from where it’s produced to where it’s consumed is about 1,500 miles,” Oches said. “That’s a lot of gas.”

Climbing fuel prices have translated to higher costs in USF’s dining halls.

“Rising fuel costs have also forced our suppliers to increase fuel charge to get products from the farm to the consumer,” Williamson said.

According to Williamson, however, these costs have not trickled down to students. So far, neither the food served nor the prices paid for it by students in the USF dining halls have changed.

“We currently have not changed any food products or pricing at the USF campus. As prices keep rising we may have to look at price increases for the upcoming school year,” Williamson said.

USF Dining, he said, is committed to maintaining current prices in all its locations for the remainder of the school year.

Registered Dietician and Public Health graduate student Karen Corbin hopes the rise in prices will not result in a decreased offering of fresh foods in the dining halls. She said that although fresh foods may cost more, ounce for ounce they provide more nutrients than processed foods.

“In a sense, you are getting more bang for your nutrition buck,” Corbin said.

It is imperative, she said, for good nutrition habits to be established early in life to reduce the likelihood of chronic illnesses such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease that are plaguing our society.

“The costs now will certainly turn into cost savings if we can prevent the onset of these conditions,” she said.