One of my recent discoveries is that most students across the country are unhappy with on-campus dining, and the issues we are grappling with here are not limited to Bon Appétit or USF. Not too long ago, I had a conversation with two friends from other universities. One goes to Yale, and the other goes to Oberlin, but neither are in a food-mecca like San Francisco. Both shared a common problem with their on-campus dining options; even though there are multiple choices per meal, many of the food items tasted the same. Both friends hypothesized that the cooks at their schools use the same spices in every meal. With this monotony, eating is not an opportunity for nourishment, pleasure, or relaxation, but a chore. We at USF have a unique opportunity to call San Francisco—one of the world’s most delicious cities—our home. With so many dining options around us, our on-campus options often do not satisfy. This makes me wonder how universal the issue of on-campus dining is, and if it can ever be reconciled.
Issues with Bon Appétit include inflated prices (up to a 200% markup), food quality, treatment of employees, and the company’s supposed refusal to release certain information. This begs the question—is our on-campus dining really below satisfactory? Many experts would disagree; The New York Times wrote that Bon Appétit’s food “deserves to be served with wine”; 7×7 Magazine likens Fedele Bauccio, Bon Appétit’s CEO, to food pioneers Alice Waters and Michael Pollan; The Washington Post reported on the company’s choice to only use humanely raised beef, and The Huffington Post reported on the company’s fight to ban gestation crates for pigs. It seems like Bon Appétit is a company that cares, and is possibly the best of its kind. Of course, if we, the consumers, are not completely satisfied by what it has to offer, then there is obviously some disconnect and room for improvement.
As recently as last November, ASUSF senate took action and organized a boycott of Bon Appétit. There were some food trucks on campus, giving students a convenient, fun option so that they could make a statement without starving. This was a great short-term option, but we will need to find some way to have satisfactory food on campus.
I would just like to inject a little more perspective here, not to say that our complaints are empty, but that we are in a big boat that we share with practically all college students. Actually, we are not just in this boat, but we are at its helm, in a much better position than many other college students. But this makes one wonder if there is a limit to the quality of food, and, ultimately, the quality of life a college student can achieve.
Thus, the issue is not just about food; dining is just one of the many examples of students having an inferior quality of living. Dorm life in general is not of a particularly high quality, and student loans historically have some of the highest interest rates of any. Meals have the potential to give us an opportunity to make a very personal change multiple times a day, and we need to feel some power over what we eat. We should also be able to use mealtimes as a time to step back and dive in, to truly enjoy a break so that we can better do what we came here to do: study. And that is what all of this talk about on-campus dining comes down to; making some of life’s simple pleasures less pleasant, making nourishment seem like a chore. Food is something we come into contact with multiple times a day, something that has the potential to nourish our souls and fuel our minds. There are few things more sacred than sharing a meal with friends, or sneaking a midnight snack into your bed without waking your roommates or parents. We are students, we need brain food in this time in which every inch of our beings are growing in a way that it never has before and never will again.
These issues are not all really Bon Appétit’s fault—they are symptoms of a cultural problem we all have to overcome. We are disconnected from our food; we seldom know where it comes from and how it gets to us, and we are usually too preoccupied with other things to care. We need to find a way to be more connected to what we eat, whether that means on-campus kitchens run completely by students, more student involvement in the current Bon Appétit establishment, or something else altogether. What we need is to take time away from Twitter or Facebook or even face-to-face-complaining and to get together with friends and prepare and enjoy a meal. This is something that everyone, including Bon Appétit wants; their mission statement proclaims, “breaking bread together helps to create a sense of community and comfort”. We just need to get off of our behinds and into the kitchen.