Food Is Rarely Just Fuel for Today’s Students

Cary Wheeland, Bon Appetit

October 18, 2016

This article is part of the 2016 Western Regional Conference Vendor Spotlight series.

Bon Appétit has experienced its busiest year of openings ever in our almost three decades of serving higher education. We added Furman University in the Southeast; Brown University, Vassar College, and Colby College in the Northeast; the University to Chicago and Rose-Hulman Institute in the Midwest; and Otis College in California to our roster of 100-plus higher education clients, the majority of them in the NASPA 5-6 region.

So what are we doing that’s special? We’re giving students what they want — food that they can feel good about eating, for a variety of reasons. I’ve been in university dining a long time, and I can tell you that today’s young people are more interested in where their food comes from and how it was grown or raised than any other time in history.

Today’s students like to be involved in the action, to take part in making their food more sustainable. We give them many opportunities to do so: through helping them establish Food Recovery Network chapters that will get edible excess food into the mouths of those in the community who most need it; tours of local farms; working with Real Food Challenge; and much more. We’ve worked with student groups on projects including creating custom soda machines using all-natural ingredients and locally made syrups as well as bringing in Fair Trade bananas and corn chips made from locally grown corn. 

Recently Bon Appétit conducted an online survey of 660 college students across the nation. The vast majority said that sustainability was important or very important to them when it came to choosing their food, with “humanely raised” just edging out “socially just/fair for workers,” followed by “non-GMO,” “organic,” and “locally grown” in terms of how important individual issues were. 

Interestingly, a whopping 94% of respondents also said that it was very or somewhat important to be able to customize a dish they order in a café or restaurant. If you can’t make it uniquely yours — and then take and share a picture of your creation — it’s apparently not worth ordering!

Together, with students, we’ve gotten our hands dirty — through starting and nourishing campus gardens. Way back in 2009, we published a Student Garden Guide to provide guidance to students starting gardens on campuses. Since then, we have continued to support this trend and encourage students, staff, and corporate employees to learn more about our food system in one of the best ways possible: by growing food themselves. Our dining teams love working with current farmers at the University of Redlands SURF garden, as well as Biola University’s campus garden.  In 2014 we created the Campus Farmers Network in order to bring these students together to share resources and ideas.

We believe in being part of our client’s communities, and the sky’s the limit when you partner with today’s motivated young people.  

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