Departments To Cut Food from Budgets

With departments seeking to “cut the fat” from their budgets to the tune of a 15 percent reduction requested by the FAS administration, bagels and bacon will be the first to go. Rather than eliminating central costs such as employees and course materials, department chairs are looking to cut down on non-essential expenses such as food and office supplies as they set the next year’s budget.

In the past, departments have offered food at faculty gatherings—coffee and pastries at breakfast meetings and catered sandwiches at lunch. With the entire university charged with the task of tightening its belt by FAS Dean Michael D. Smith, nearly every department has had to scale back.

According to History of Science Department Chair Anne Harrington, even though the department’s food cost is only a small portion of the overall budget, the move is “partly symbolic politics.”

“It’s about changing the culture of expectation,” said Harrington, “so that you get used to buying your own piece of pizza on your way up [to a meeting] instead of expecting a sandwich and drinks when you get there.”

Two weeks ago, the history department had its first faculty lunch-time meeting without providing lunch, said Professor of American Studies and Department Chair Lizabeth Cohen. “Much at Harvard had been lubricated with food and drink,” she said.

Faculty members were advised in an e-mail to bring their own lunch, “but some people didn’t read to the bottom of the e-mail,” she said. Those who did not pack a lunch found themselves sharing a banana with their colleagues, Cohen said.

Even with cuts to their food budgets, departments have not entirely abandoned snack-food. Departments are turning away from Crimson Catering to more cost efficient options like Costco.

Crimson Catering, the subdivision of Harvard University Dining Services that caters to events ranging from faculty meetings to gala dinners, declined to comment on any changes in sales. But they have begun advertising a special “Give Your Budget A Break” menu on their Web site, in an apparent recognition of the budgetary constraints sweeping the campus.

Harrington said that next year, the annual History of Science Christmas dinner will be transformed from an expensively catered event to a pot-luck, saving the department roughly $5,000.

Anthropology Department Chair Theodore C. Bestor said that in recent years, while the department has provided coffee to its faculty and staff, drinkers were expected to leave 25 cents for each cup consumed. But Bestor said that the $2,000 the department spent on coffee brought in only $400 worth of quarters. The department will not continue to offer coffee this year.

But, Harrington said, food is not everything. “It doesn’t cost anything to have a really engaging conversation.”

—Staff writer Elyssa A.L. Spitzer can be reached at spitzer@fas.harvard.edu. 
—Staff writer Noah S. Rayman can be reached at nrayman@fas.harvard.edu.