This article was originally published in print in the October 27 issue of The Pilot. On October 28th, a Watercooler went out informing students that $230 had been added to their meal point accounts in a one time support move. The announcement, written by Dining Services Director Trey McCartt, stated “Dining Services is aware that increased food prices have impacted student meal plans, and we appreciate students raising their concerns with us.”
With the effects of the pandemic still doing a number across the globe, Principia finds itself with a peculiar problem: hungry college students. Inflation has gobbled up many students’ meal points, leaving them weeks behind from their projected positions.
“I’m about two or three weeks behind,” said sophomore Emmanuel Atiko when asked about his number of meal points. “There were a few days in which I didn’t eat enough food, which definitely hampered my productivity levels.”
Atiko’s comments represent a trend many Principians are afraid of: not having enough points to finish the semester. While meal prices have gone up this fall, students are allotted the same amount of points per day as last semester – creating uncertainty among many.
“Food costs have skyrocketed over the summer, no doubt,” said Trey McCartt, director of Dining Services. “Over the last 20-30 years, it’s been a steady increase: 0.3 or 0.4 percent per year in food prices, not more. But if you compare the prices now to the year before, it’s an increase of 15.5% for potatoes, 100% for some brands of eggs, 28 or 29% for beef…”
McCartt started working for the college cafeteria in 1999. He became assistant director a few years after that and was promoted to director in early 2022. Even with his decades-long experience in the field, he’s never seen such an increase in food prices. For him, it’s a combination of different factors that are creating this context.
“We’re looking at a situation that pretty much started with the pandemic when there were supply and labor shortages all across the board,” McCartt said. “Most recently, with the war in Ukraine, three things happened and intensified during the summer: a lack of wheat, with the prices of flour going up, gas prices going up – which impacted truck drivers, farmers… – and an increase in the price of fertilizers, that Ukraine usually exports a lot.”
“It is affecting the world globally, not just Principia’s Dining Services,” he added.
Upperclassmen chose their meal plans for the fall last April, and at that time, inflation was already present, but not as visible as it is now. High temperatures during the summer also led to droughts that affected farmers worldwide, and the combination of factors created the situation we’re in now.
“I think I’m about 100 points below what we’re supposed to be,” said junior Lia Senser when asked about her meal plan. “I used to live lavishly and I used to live generously, but I can’t anymore. I have not been paying for others and I’ve been eating much less myself and I’m still below.”
The number of points slightly changed in 2021 to reflect inflation, with an increase of 30 to 40 dollars to the regular meal plan, McCartt said. The traditional meal plan is currently worth 985 points, the Panther is worth 1,085, the Blue is up to 1,285, and the Gold is 1,485. Global peaks of inflation this summer took every department that’s involved in creating the meal plan by surprise.
Grilled chicken used to cost less than 4 points, it’s now 4.2 points. Pasta has risen by 0.15 points.
“I’m hoping that me and Trey can work together and talk to the people to see what we can do,” said junior Gloria Ishimwe, who serves as the Dining Services representative on the student senate. She’s hoping to up the number of points that each student receives so they have enough on their meal cards to last the semester.
Students who are lacking points before the fall term comes to a close can visit the Principia Marketplace online to add points directly to their meal card (PrinWeb > Resources > Institutional Resources > Principia Marketplace > College Student Activities > College Meal Plan Account Add-Ons).
“We’re also very understaffed here, so this food prices situation is a new challenge that adds up to other challenges for us,” noted McCartt, the director of Dining Services. “We’re trying to deliver so that hopefully, the students don’t notice it on a day-to-day basis. And we definitely will try to be more in step of what the costs are.”