October 24, 2013
Maybe my judgment is clouded by the fact that I eat in the same cafeteria everyday, but Eat Local Challenge Day in late September was one of the best dining experiences of my life. In case you missed this wondrous event, Bon Appétit filled the McEwen Courtyard with meals made entirely from ingredients sourced from within 150 miles of its kitchens. Students and professors piled their plates high with Sun Gold tomatoes, roast pork loin, grilled garlic chicken and honeyed raspberries. Apple cider and cheddar cheese claimed their usual spotlight, of course, like old time celebrities on the (chopping) block. Not only was the food delicious, but it was completely local, seasonal and responsible. I had a feeling this was not something that usually happened at colleges across the country, and when Bon Appétit was named in the “Daily Meal’s 60 Best Colleges for Food in America” list for 2013, my suspicions were confirmed.
In forming the list, the Daily Meal considered the sustainability of each meal, the accessibility and service of each campus dining hall, whether campus dining engaged students with events or nutritional education and student feedback.
In the sustainability front, I have been really impressed by the efforts Bon Appétit has made toward keeping food local and utilizing seasonal ingredients. For example, on the Eat Local Challenge Day alone, local providers including North Star Orchards, Lucky Seven Farms, Evans Farmhouse Creamery, and even our own Community Garden supplied food to the Hamilton community. Plus, on a daily basis, our bagels come from the local Bagel Grove, just a short drive away in New Hartford. However, local food does come with somewhat of a drawback when all of Commons is ready to revolt because of the scarcity of avocados on our plates. Eating local and enjoying sustainable meals will always come with a price, such as having a “limited” selection of food based on seasons and geographic location. As a student concerned with responsible eating practices, I see this as a small price to pay for the peace of mind we get knowing our food’s frozen journey does not rival that of Marco Polo. The large amount of student interest in local and sustainable food selection, as shown by the Slow Food and Real Food clubs and Farm to Fork initiatives, are echoed by Bon Appétit. This collabaration between student interest groups and Bon Appétit practices is what makes Hamilton’s food service worthy of recognition.
The conversation does not stop there. As a member of the Food Committee, I sit and listen to food complaints and suggestions from students every week and discuss possible solutions with the Bon Appétit staff. We also review the “comment cards” students write in the dining halls. (To the person who asks for hash browns at every meal, give it up already.)
In all seriousness, I have been very impressed by the manner in which Bon Appétit takes suggestions and truly tries to make changes in the dining halls based on student feedback.
For example, students complained about the lack of healthy options at Diner B at the last Food Committee meeting. I suggested an egg-white breakfast burrito and was amazed that it was accepted with such ease and is now offered at the Diner. The difficulty lies in trying to appease student’s palates for tropical fruit in the dead of winter while respecting Farm to Fork practices. Again, the tension between maintaining local food and enjoying wide food selection continues. As the Hamilton community gains a greater awareness about food practices, which I think is already pretty strong, perhaps Bon Appétit “comment cards” will start dwindling.
My only “comment card” would veer away from the food itself and focus more on the logistics of the dining experience. Ironically, Commons’ tragedy is somewhat like the tragedy of the commons, which I debate when forks run out or when there is no more coffee right after dinner.
Nevertheless, Commons and McEwen make considerable efforts to provide variation in the food and respect allergies, such as gluten intolerance. I think the next step is for students to start respecting the dining halls in return. I know everyone is in a rush, but dipping the peanut butter spoon in the cream cheese “by accident” is never okay in my book. As Bon Appétit aims to enhance our dining experience, we should follow suit.
With all this said, much congratulations to Bon Appétit for its high rankings by the Daily Meal. There is still a ways to go, but we have created a pretty great foundation on which to start. I highly encourage everyone to attend Food Committee meetings and continue writing “comment cards” should you have any suggestions for the dining services on campus.