One evening towards the beginning of the term I found myself chatting with a high school guidance counselor from Southern California who had come to Carleton to tour the school, meet students and learn more about the institution. He was asking me about my classes, about being a student athlete, and about all the organizations and clubs and activities on campus, when suddenly he threw a curve ball at me: he said, "so now tell me honestly, what do you think is the worst thing about Carleton?" I laughed nervously - the worst thing about Carleton? Nothing was coming to mind. He jumped in again, saying, "Yes, I want to know. But you can't say parking or the food."
Parking or the food? Are these the two biggest complaints most students have about their college? I don't have a car so I can't speak to the parking issue, but the food? That would never have come to my mind as an answer to his question.
And then I realized that's probably one of the many things that makes me pretty darn lucky to go to Carleton. Bon Appétit has been our meal provider for the past four or five years, and in that time they have proven themselves to be committed to quality, variety, local/organic/free range/antibiotic free efforts, and in general "Real Food".
Last week, I attended a forum in the Weitz Center on just that: "Real Food". Led by a new student organization called Food Truth, the forum brought together players from all different parts of the food shed including students, local farmers, Bon Appétit management, chefs, community members and professors to discuss the current and desired state of our food system and specifically the role of colleges in the food system. To frame the forum, we were asked to consider the idea of "Real Food", which Food Truth defined for us as "food that truly nourishes producers, consumers, communities and the earth. It is a food system - from seed to plate - that fundamentally respects human dignity and health, animal welfare, social justice and environmental sustainability."
The program for the night included several guest speakers who were involved in the Carleton food network who shared their thoughts and experiences with "Real Food". Jody Treter, the sales director for Peace Coffee (the sole provider of Carleton's coffee) spoke about the importance of college that support organic, fair trade coffee in a world where the coffee market is so intricately tied with environmentalism and labor rights. Danya Burtness, the founder of Laughing Loon Farm in Northfield and food activist, shared her passion for organic, sustainable, local agriculture and the methods by which she gets her food from the farm to the plates of Carleton students. Michael Delcambre, the executive chef for Bon Appétit at Carleton, discussed Appétit's commitment to working with student groups such as Food Truth in an effort to put the best possible food in the dining halls.
Last summer, a friend of mine spent two months working in the Carleton Organic Farm on campus. She told me about how every day, she would pick ripe veggies (cucumbers, zucchini, squash, tomatoes, peppers, etc.) and wheelbarrow them over to the Bon Appétit office, where the chefs would purchase everything she brought them. The next day, she would see the produce she had watered, weeded, and provided with daily TLC on the plates of Carleton students.
It struck me during the forum how incredibly rare it must be for college food providers to have such a deep commitment to "Real Food". Bon Appétit and Food Truth have set a goal to fill the dining halls with at least 30% "Real Food" in the coming years which, considering the number of mouths to feed and the limited budget with which to work, would be pretty awesome (we're at 20% now). I was amazed by how enthusiastic the chefs and local farmers were about providing students with the best possible food and how many excited students came to the forum to learn about the food they were eating (the room was packed). One of the speakers, a current St. Olaf student, concluded her portion of the talk by saying that "college is about learning to care." Even though she's an Ole, I agree with her wholeheartedly.
Refreshments provided by Bon Appétit (including things like "BBQ Alaskan Sockeye Salmon 'Lollypop'" and "Donnay Dairy Goat Cheese Roulade"):
Student speakers: Annelise Marie Brandel-Tanis (St. Olaf, '14), Taylor Owen (Carleton, '13) and Abbie Shain (Macalester, '14)
Jody Treter, sales director for Peace Coffee
Vera Chang, west coast fellow for Bon Appétit Management company Foundation and Carleton Alum, '09
Dayna Burtness, farmer at Laughing Loon Farm (Northfield, MN) and food activist
Michael Delcambre, executive chef for Appétit at Carleton
Students and community members listen to the speakers:
Casey Silver, student worker at the Carleton Organic Farm:
And now I must be off to scavenge the dining hall for some "Real Food" for lunch!