There are few students at St. Olaf who do not look forward to morning omelets in the caf. But now, a sign hangs pointedly outside of the caf. It reads: “Due to egg shortages nationwide, we’re offering delicious options other than eggs.”
The culprit is avian influenza. Better known as bird flu, it is a virus that is extremely contagious among domestic poultry. Millions of fowl have already died this year, wreaking havoc among buyers and distributors. Across the country, laborers, bakeries and grocery stores alike are facing fewer eggs and soaring prices. Indeed, the virus is now so widespread that the USDA has gauged the outbreak to be one of the most severe in U.S. history.
Omelets and eggs are two favorite breakfast staples among the student body, but with a poultry problem this extreme, Bon Appetit is being forced to make unwelcome, albeit necessary, cutbacks.
“The biggest issue we’re facing right now is the eggs, and any other changes that are happening in the dining hall all revolve around this shortage of eggs,” Bon Appetit Board Manager Randy Clay said. “Eggs just aren’t available in the quantities we usually go through, so we have to explore other options.”
Unfortunately, St. Olaf’s poultry problems are more far-reaching than a simple lack of eggs. Even before the flu, Bon Appetit’s commitment to purchasing quality eggs was never easy.
“Our company is trying to source regional, cage-free or certified humanely raised eggs,” Clay said.
However, the local region – including Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa – has been hit particularly hard by the outbreak.
“Avian flu has made sourcing these [local] eggs even more difficult than before,” Clay said.
Despite scarcity, eggs have not and will not be entirely removed from the menu. Bon Appetit still offers omelets twice a week and scrambled eggs every morning.
“We’ve had to make plans, Tuesday through Thursday, to make something other than omelets,” Clay said. “Likewise, instead of serving eggs for breakfast and lunch on Saturdays, we will only serve eggs for breakfast.”
Fortunately, staff have dealt with food shortages in the past and are thus prepared to come up with alternatives.
“We’ve implemented things like build-your-own-hash-browns and make-your-own-porridge,” Clay said.
The idea behind these substitutions is to eliminate egg waste and distribute more prudently what remains of the smaller supply.
“Again, eliminating eggs isn’t a viable option for us,” he said. “We just don’t want to do that.”
Clay is aware that some students are not happy with these cutbacks.
“We knew there would be pushback,” he said. “Every time there’s a change like this, it tends to ruffle some feathers.”
However, Clay is also finding that large volumes of students are not just willing, but excited to see something new at breakfast.
“I’ve heard some really nice comments about the things we’re doing on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays,” he said.
Avian flu is beginning to die down, but some experts believe a complete recovery may take more than one year.
“This will probably fix itself,” Clay said, “but it could get worse before it gets better.” Even so, eggs are still on the menu at St. Olaf, and for now at least, they are there to stay.