Oles are not known to take for granted the privileges with which they have been presented. On the contrary, we are habitual analysts of the inherent inequalities in our world, and we are known to start campaigns, protests and organizations to raise awareness for just about any cause. Upon graduation, we flock to jobs that require living on food stamps just so that we can put this world-class education to use serving our fellow human beings.
Indeed, Oles are conscientious creatures. Unfortunately, though, this conscientiousness seems far less present in student attitudes toward Bon Appétit at St. Olaf than it does in other facets of student life. Why is that? The way I see the problem, a lack of conscientiousness results from a lack of consciousness; to put it more simply, we don’t care because we don’t understand.
I certainly had no conception of the amount of energy, time, food, planning, transportation, budgeting, scheduling and manual labor required to sustain a hungry student body of 3,000 until my classmates and I had the transformative experience of touring Bon Appétit last month.
With the legendary Randy Clay himself as our tour guide, 20 of us got an inside look at the sheer amount of food roughly $1 million worth each year and human energy that eventually becomes your chicken from the grill line, your vegan cookie from the cage and the 1,000 new black coffee mugs that are now lying around your dorm rooms.
This is not a plea for students to return the mugs and trays that have gone missing in such great quantities this year – even the best of us have been known to sled down Hoyme hill once or twice. It is not even a request for less food waste or going “trayless.” Rather, it is an opportunity for students taking advantage of the best college food in the nation according to a 2011 report from Newsweek to develop the awe that our own little Bon Appétit deserves. If we allow ourselves to develop that awe, a respect for food and dishes will automatically follow.
Of course, I shouldn’t call Bon Appétit at St. Olaf little – Stav Hall is actually one of the single biggest sites that Bon Appétit serves anywhere in the nation. While some other colleges may be bigger, most have at least two dining halls. We Oles, on the other hand, all eat together there we go with that community building again. In fact, when Buntrock Commons was constructed in 1999 and the student body voted in favor of a single dining hall, Bon Appétit had a hand in designing the food service facilities. But St. Olaf’s incredible relationship with Bon Appétit hardly stops there.
Bon Appétit’s Farm to Fork initiative aims to “purchase seasonal ingredients from small, owner-operated farms and ranches within a 150-mile radius.” At St. Olaf, more than 20 percent of the food served falls within the Farm to Fork category. Of course, local food does not just magically “fall” into place. Rather, the chefs at St. Olaf work directly with local farmers to purchase meat and produce for our dinners.
Every day, the Bon Appétit bakery team bakes thousands of cookies. Thousands. Human beings wake up before dawn every morning, come to work and bake, quite literally, thousands of cookies for us, not to mention the plethora of other fresh and yummy Cage treats. In addition, both the kitchen and bakery staffs work with students who have severe allergies in order to make healthy and edible snacks and meals for them.
And guess what else? Randy, Peter and the rest of our Bon Appétit favorites really do read those comment cards and take our suggestions into consideration.
The lack of student conscientiousness with regard to our food service system springs from the lack of understanding of what a truly marvelous system it is. Bon Appétit is the most complex, scientific and truly magical facet of life at St. Olaf, but we are so used to passively accepting our food service as a daily reality that we forget to understand it, much less truly appreciate it.
The next time you hand over your ID to be swiped at dinner, think about the countless hours of human and environmental effort that takes to put that dinner in front of you. Remember that one cookie is probably all you need for dessert. And maybe even bring that mug sitting on your desk back. After all, Bon Appétit at St. Olaf is a complex, fragile and beautiful ecosystem, and it’s up to us – its 3,000 customers – to keep that ecosystem in balance.
Ashley Belisle ’15 firstname.lastname@example.org is from Mahtomedi, Minn. She majors in English and Spanish.
Graphic Credit:ALLI LIVINGSTON/MANITOU MESSENGER