Friday, April 11, 2008

To table, college-aged and hungry

The New York Times has discovered the alluring and the alarming of campus gastronomy, all detailed in an article from Wednesday that announces “Latest College Reading Lists: Menus with Pho and Lobster.” Oh my! As if the ivory tower needed a little more ivory. Left, the glittering chandeliers over a dining hall at Virginia Tech, where students can order a grilled rib-eye plated to perfection. And right, mussels in steaming green curry from Bowdoin, not without spring onion garnish.

The article reads: “as palates grow more sophisticated and admissions become more competitive, many top colleges are paying attention to dining rooms as well as classrooms.” In many ways, this a blog about being a college student and eating. So, first, let’s be clear. The main concern for most coeds is not whether the campus plates match their sophisticated palates, but that the food at school is simply palatable at all.

However much we love to gripe (about trifling issues and matters of real concern about expense and not being able to get off the meal plan), Wesleyan does have its culinary moments - and the Times article recognizes this. In the article, the University promises not haute cuisine, but political positions that motivate food choices:

“Jenna, an 18-year-old vegetarian from St. Louis, Mo., was particularly impressed by Wesleyan University. ‘I heard a lot about organic food co-ops and the little organic store where you can use your dining card, and those things are important to me,’ she said of its offerings.”

Calling Weshop a "little organic store" is a bit of a stretch, but I'll grant that they do sell a fair amount of organic products. And I had dinner with the people who run that co-op the other night, Tressa and Ellie, who also set up the farmers’ market last week. There are a lot of people here who care about eating really delicious food, and still more who are deeply committed to organic and local farming and food-making. I think the campus and the community benefit from the critical thought and work they put into food.

Case in point: even at this time of year, last week's market was lovely. Fabulously speckled Araconda eggs, hydroponic greens, jams from that sweet and informative couple, Dick and Dot Wingate of Studio Farm Products in Voluntown, whose relish I once told you about, lunch prepared by the River Tavern of Chester, and the always impressive Bloomsday cheese from Cato Corner in Colchester. The father-daughter pair of Meriano’s Bake Shoppe of Guilford gave me a fresh cannoli with the ricotta filling piped in right in front of me. Whoa.

And last weekend's Shasha Seminar for Human Concerns, "Food: Power and Identity," led by Government professor John Finn, was wonderful. Over the course of a few days over 100 attendees enjoyed lectures, discussion panels and meals together, asking questions like: What kind of food are we eating, and what kind should we be eating? What should we teach about food? And also, what can food teach us? This blog wants to continue to ask some of those questions. And! As a contributing reporter for the Argus, I got to interview some people in the food world that I've read and respected for years. You can read my article on the seminar from Monday’s Argus here.

No comments: