The Future of Food at Andover: Fluctuating Food Prices Will Not Affect Commons

Due to recent fluctuations in food prices, the school’s food budget has increased by eight percent in the past two years — three percentage points greater than inflation. But there is no need to worry that favorites such as “Taco Tuesday” will be cancelled. The current food crisis will not affect the variety or quality of food served in Uncommons. Mike Giampa, Food Service Manager and newly appointed Food Production Manager, said that higher food prices have affected the budget, but not the quality or variety of menu items. “Small things will change — for instance, we’re going to try not to buy out of season produce, and when something hits its peak price we’ll try to [phase] it out with something of better quality and price,” Giampa said. Right now, an average meal costs two dollars and sixty cents per person, according to Paul Robarge, Senior Food Service Director. Phillips Academy spends 3.7 million dollars on food yearly. According to Robarge, approximately 3,100 meals are served every day at Uncommons. Only 75 percent of the Phillips Academy community members who are allowed to eat in Uncommons actually do, he said. Giampa said that the Commons team promises increases in both food choice and quality. Director of Risk Management and Administrative Services, Maureen Nunez, said that the budget for the new dining hall should be “cost neutral,” meaning food expenses should not increase. According to Nunez, this budget is attainable because serving areas devoted to specific menu items encourage students to put less food on their trays and will increase efficiency in each food station. To support sustainability efforts for the renovated Commons, Giampa said that Phillips Academy is looking to purchase a dehydrator to “turn waste into compost.” With this machine, water will be removed from the leftover food as it is compressed and packaged into barrels, which a local compost company will regularly pick up. According to Giampa, the PA campus is not large enough to accommodate the amount of compost that will be made, and the smell would be problematic. Giampa said, “They’ll be more cooks than servers [in Commons.]” In Uncommons, the number of staff employed as servers exceeds the number of cooks. “Luckily for us, a lot of our servers are cross-trained [in both serving and cooking],” said Giampa. After participating in a food service training program where he learned how to upgrade food quality while minimizing purchasing costs, Giampa said he looks to incorporate this practice in the new Commons. Peer schools are also monitoring the food crisis and its effects on their budgets. Food Service Director at Deerfield Academy, Florrie Paige, said that Deerfield has had no changes in their dining budget or infrastructure so far. “We will continue to watch [the food prices] carefully and we may need to make changes depending on the economy,” Paige said. Aneesa Sayall, Instructor in Economics, gave explanation of the food crisis. “For the past two years, food prices had been soaring. Grain and rice were up 100 percent, which trickled down so meat and dairy products went up too,” Sayall said. Most food production companies will keep their prices high to make up for lost money in the past two years, she said. “For an average family of four, the amount spent on groceries per month has increased by 1,000 dollars,” said Sayall. According to Sayall, these high prices are not going to fall soon. Giampa said the new Commons will be a “showpiece” and “selling point” of the school. “Commons will be completely refurbished and include a brand-new serving area with marble, slate, beautiful wood, glass and drop lighting,” he said. “The food will be fantastic, with more cook-to-order, fresh, made-the-way-you-like-it options,” Giampa said. Commons construction is on schedule and will be ready to open for Spring term.