One of the most frequent and ubiquitous complaints dropped around campus is the reliable trash talking of Bon food. We hear it between classes; we hear it in the cafeteria line; we hear it spouted to new students on the very first day of orientation.
Students unabashedly walk to the front of a line right in view of dining hall workers only to glance at the food chefs have spent hours preparing to grimace and remark to their friends, “Gross.” It has become such an embedded social norm that to mention something served at Field’s Dining Hall (the Bon) might not be so terrible is to elicit eyebrow raises and sneers.
But I will risk the judgment because I have had enough of listening to my peers rag on the food, and even of jumping on the bandwagon myself. In the same newspaper issue as coverage of the Bon union negotiations, I feel it is imperative to bring awareness to the connection between the food and the people who make it.
Often, students treat the food as though it has magically appeared in front of them, but perhaps they would be more sensitive if they remembered the many employees who devote their days to providing the very same food they insult.
As the writer of the negotiations article, I am aware that I have gotten a closer perspective into the lives of Bon employees than many, and this may have influenced my view. Still, I believe it is shortsighted to critique the food and demand improvements without recognizing the economic circumstances that make such improvements difficult.
The dining hall is chronically understaffed and the workers there are already putting in as much work as they can. Additionally, the union has worked to make the dining hall a more enticing place to work, hopefully mitigating future staffing issues.
I have worked as a student worker at the Bon and seen (and participated in) the prep work that goes into each and every meal. Talking with people who have worked there for years and even decades, I learned the deep care that many of them take in nourishing others. I also realized how much coordination and planning goes into preparing meals for hundreds or thousands of people.
There is only so much refined quality that can go into a meal when it must be whipped up in a matter of hours in massive quantities, and to expect gourmet food is unrealistic and privileged. Yet, even before these experiences, I was a defender of Bon food. I recognize that variety could be improved and many meals tend to be repeated.
As someone who has been vegetarian for a portion of my time at Lewis & Clark, I also empathize with complaints of limited vegetarian options. Yet, there is still almost always tofu, tempeh, beans and/or the consistently dreaded soy curls available at every meal, which is far more than can be said for most colleges.
One of the main aspects of Bon food that I appreciate are reliable healthy options. Many schools only serve dishes like pasta, pizza, burgers and sandwiches, but LC’s dining hall is seldom found without a whole grain and various vegetable choices in sight.
It may be boring to the palates of some, but I appreciate a plate of rice, chicken and broccoli, or quinoa, tofu and salad. My dad calls this balance of protein, grain and vegetable “the Holy Trinity”, and I inherited this mindset.
While there may be a lack of variety in more exciting foods, I acknowledge the effort put in to prepare some of the repeated ingredients, like chicken, in new ways. The Bon often offers chicken in differently flavored marinades, cooked in different styles, spiced up with vegetables mixed in and so on.
Under limitations of not being able to splurge on pricier meats as frequently, they do the most they can with the budget and ingredients they have.
The dedication to limiting food waste is another important factor. Often, a curry served one day will resurface as a soup option the next. While it may not be very thrilling to see options similar to what has recently been served, I would rather eat a dish reminiscent of yesterday’s than have all the leftovers be thrown out.
Far too much of dining critique centers around personal excitement and desire, ignoring practicality and conservation.
I understand that some people have more specialized diets or health situations which make the Bon a more difficult place to get the nourishment they need, and I cannot speak for them.
People should be allowed and encouraged to advocate for their needs and express preferences, but I believe there is a line of what feedback is constructive.
I aim to bring to light some of the positive aspects of the Bon amidst the ocean of negative comments and urge students to reevaluate their privilege before complaining about not receiving first-rate food.
Please remember that “the Bon” is not some dehumanized entity upon which you can pile all of your gripes; there are real people keeping it running, and they deserve respect and recognition for their hard work.
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