Let Them Eat Local
September 26, 2012
Filed under Features
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“As far as I know, Middlebury has always fed students here on campus,” said Director of Dining Services Matthew Biette. Proctor was opened in 1959 and served as the main dining hall for the ten years following its opening until the College started a new initiative using Social Dining Units.
Social Dining Units were originally created when the Freeman International Center (FIC) was built in 1970. They provided an alternative and more intimate setting for students than the larger dining hall. The FIC was built around this idea and originally all the offices and classrooms were situated around a central kitchen. During this time, Le Chateau also served meals.
Biette arrived in 1997 when Le Chateau, Student Dining Units and Proctor were the only locations where food was served on campus. Ross opened in the fall of 2002 and Atwater opened in the spring of 2005. Atwater and Ross were built as new additions during the implementation of the Commons System.
The dining halls, year after year, strive to represent the College’s goals with regard to the food they serve.
“The goal of dining services is to enhance the Middlebury experience for all students,” said Executive Chef Robert Cleveland.
Both Cleveland and Biette agree that each dining hall serves a specific purpose on campus and appeals to different students. When asked which dining hall best exemplifies the goals of dining services, Biette said, “They all do in various ways. Each has a bit of differences and people gravitate to what they enjoy.”
All three dining halls strive to incorporate local food into their fare and serve as a principal buyer for over fifty local Vermont companies.
Baba-Louis’s Bakery in Chester, Vt. considers Middlebury one of its most important customers. “We truly value our relationship [with Middlebury College]” said the company. Baba-Louis’s, among other local companies like Vermont Highland Beef and Blue Ledge Farms, depends on the College’s business to survive.
In spite of the emphasis that the College puts on buying food from local and sustainable sources, it must also buy from wholesale distributors.
“Foods can and do come from around the world, depending on the ingredient and season,” said Biette.
The Geography department started an initiative called “Food Mapping” based on a suggestion by former student Christopher Howell ’04.5. This project creates visuals of the geographic origin of four different meals served regularly on campus. In mapping breakfast, turkey dinner, Mexican fajita lunch and the beloved chicken parmesan, the project provides stunning visuals for how far the food we eat travels before it hits our plates.
Historically, the College has seen many initiatives to create more food awareness on campus. Last year, there was a push from a group of students in environmental economics for “LessMeat Mondays,” based on the amount of carbon expended to create meat-based meals.
This initiative received some backlash from meat-eaters who felt guilt-tripped into abstaining from meat. “It’s hard when you’re really hungry and just want to eat what you want to eat and there’s people outside Proctor making you feel guilty for wanting to eat a piece of chicken,” said Mitchell Parrish ’14.
Students and the dining services both struggle to strike a balance between eating consciously, but also enjoying the foods they love.
When asked which he though was more important, food coming from local and sustainable sources or food that tastes good, Cleveland commented that “hopefully they are one in the same.”
Yet, when the Campus’ editorial board was polled and that same question was asked, the results were drastically different. Seventy percent of editors answered that they prioritize sustainable food over taste.
The College’s dining services must take into account a plethora of preferences, priorities and practicalities when creating the menus for the three dining halls.
Above all, staff hope that students have a pleasant dining experience.
The staff and the meals they create are there for “the enjoyment of the students,” said Cleveland.