Last week, the Oberlin Student Cooperative Association raised the food budgets for all dining co-ops to account for inflation in food and gas prices resulting from global economic trends. The change comes after food buyers at various co-ops have spent the semester adopting creative strategies to cope with the unexpected rise in prices.
Each co-op has two elected food buyers who plan food purchases for the co-op. They work weekly to ensure that their respective co-ops have adequate food to feed members.
Recently, economic inflation has risen to around eight percent — up from the Federal Reserve’s target of two percent. This has challenged food buyers who not only need to stay within their budget but also need to ensure that the variety of food they purchase meets all co-op members’ nutritional needs, including the needs of those with dietary restrictions.
“The budget we were given at the start [of the semester] doesn’t reflect how much food actually costs and doesn’t take into account how much it costs to get food delivered,” Pyle Food Buyer and College third-year Jessica Norris said. “So the amount of food we needed to buy to feed the co-op was not something that really fit within the budget we were working with.”
When food buyers approached the All- OSCA Board with concerns about the difficulties in sourcing food within the budget, they found the board receptive and willing to make changes to ensure that the co-ops had adequate food.
“To account for [food and gas prices], we raised all the co-op budgets to go and meet the level of inflation that it’s at right now,” said College fourth-year and OSCA treasurer Alicia Rey-Miller. “It’s nothing that will come out of members’ pockets… OSCA is here to provide food for the members. So we are gonna provide food for the members. Everyone should be eating well.”
Before OSCA raised the co-op food budgets, food buyers put in extra hours to balance the co-op’s nutritional needs with budgetary restrictions. Buyers resorted to buying locally grown food items like carrots and beets rather than produce grown farther away, like cauliflower or brussel sprouts.
“Me and my co[-food buyer] were coming up with these big price comparison Google Docs of where oil is cheapest, where rice is cheapest, what produce is cheapest from what vendors,” Norris said. “We started looking at the cost of vegetables a lot, trying to buy vegetables that were $1 a pound instead of $2 a pound.”
Besides the challenge of increased prices, OSCA also hosted the College’s consultant team, which is currently working on the Dining Master Plan. The group is touring all campus facilities before it makes recommendations for enhancements to dining options and facilities.
Assistant Vice President and Dean of Residential Education and Campus Life Auxiliary Services Mark Zeno says this process’ resulting recommendations could potentially lead to updates to OSCA’s kitchen equipment as well as other changes to dining facilities across campus.
“I hope [the outcome] is the side of, ‘What are the things that we can do to improve those spaces, to make it more efficient?’” Zeno said. “But if there is something that’s so outdated and inefficient, that’s something they’re gonna note, that, ‘Hey, there are newer, better ways to prepare this with this type of machine that will save everyone efficiently across campus.’”
For the future, OSCA plans to continue working to feed co-op members nutritious meals and creating an affordable alternative to campus dining.
“I think we’re always gonna meet and make sure that everyone’s getting enough to eat,” Rey-Miller said. “Our goal is to be financially affordable, more so than the College[‘s housing and dining options]. So we always are gonna try and provide the best food that we can.”
However, recent international events have made it challenging to predict the future and the lasting economic effects of the pandemic mean that inflation could continue to be a challenge in the fall.
“A lot of the issues we are having have been supply chain issues caused by the war [in] Ukraine and other big political issues that feel very beyond our control,” Norris said. “Those are things that will shape whether or not this continues to be the situation. But the really nice thing about OSCA is that the people who run it are also the people who live and eat in it. So there’s a real incentive to make sure that we are well taken care of.”
According to OSCA, the organization will reallocate surplus in some budget areas to compensate for increased food budgets.