Berkeley Schools Unfazed In Face of Rising Food Costs

Photo: Ann Cooper, director of nutrition services for the Berkeley Unified School District, stands in the kitchen at Martin Luther King, Jr. Middle School, where they prepare locally produced food.
Aditya Rohilla/Staff
Ann Cooper, director of nutrition services for the Berkeley Unified School District, stands in the kitchen at Martin Luther King, Jr. Middle School, where they prepare locally produced food.

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Editor's Note: This is the fourth installment in a four-part series on rising food costs.

Though food prices around the world are soaring, Berkeley Unified School District officials said the school nutrition program is in good shape.

The district's reliance on primarily local food means that their food costs have stayed relatively the same despite increasing gas prices, said Ann Cooper, the district's director of nutrition services.

Keeping costs low will enable the schools' cafeterias to continue serving students a variety of organic produce and food that is made from scratch daily without raising menu prices, said Cooper.

"We really just look at the way we purchase our food, we buy our food economically," said Cooper. "Most of the rising food costs have really been for processed foods, and we don't use processed foods."

Because it is able to keep costs low, the district's nutrition services will not need to make drastic changes to their program but will instead focus on a number of smaller adjustments. Cooper said the district has looked into small ways to save money during the coming school year and will continue to look for more.

One way the program will cut costs is by changing the way its organic milk is delivered, Cooper said. The milk, whose price has increased, was previously delivered to each school individually. Cooper said all of the milk will now be delivered to one location and the school district will arrange for it to be distributed to each campus, which will save money.

According to Cooper, small adjustments like these are the only ones necessary for nutrition services to accommodate the increase in food costs.

Even programs such as the "universal breakfast," which provides free breakfast to every student at all schools in the district, will be able to operate as normal, Cooper said. She said she also does not anticipate any increase in menu prices during the upcoming school year.

"We just hope to purchase as smart as we can," Cooper said. "For example, if the cost of apples goes up, but the cost of pears doesn't, we'll be serving more pears."

Berkeley Unified School District spokesperson Mark Coplan said the district makes efforts to be more environmentally friendly by buying locally, which saves money on fuel costs.

"To some degree, our efforts have helped the gas costs, since we mostly buy from local producers," he said. "We think globally and act locally."

Cooper said she feels certain that the high quality food the program serves will be maintained, adding that it is unlikely students will notice the changes.

"From a students' point of view, prices won't be going up and quality won't be going down. I don't think they will notice a difference," she said. "If we have to change a product in order to save money, we will, but otherwise the students won't see any big changes in the food we serve."


Contact Victoria Liu at [email protected]

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