The search for the right college is a difficult undertaking for any high school student. There are majors to consider, extracurricular activities, sports, religion, study abroad, dormitories, campus locations and, of course, cafeterias. My college search involved a week-long tour of Wisconsin and Minnesota with my parents (it was a long week) on a quest to find The Perfect College. We followed backwards-walking tour guides across manicured lawns, peeked into occupied dorm rooms and sat in on band rehearsals. And although it might seem shallow, one of the most important aspects of my college search was the quality of the food.
Colleges have become more competitive about their dining services over the past ten to fifteen years since many students are no longer willing to accept the mystery-meat style cafeterias that my parents tolerated in the 1970s. They ordered pizza several times a week and faced the meager iceberg lettuce at the salad bar with trepidation. I decided early on that the food I would eat for four years had to be varied, healthy and delicious.
I chose to attend St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota for many reasons, including their #3 nationally-ranked cafeteria. Recently, St. Olaf was rated #1 in the US for great college food by Newsweek’s Daily Beast. With a cafeteria that features multiple stations, a well-stocked dessert bar and a commitment to healthy, sustainable food, I can understand why.
St. Olaf employs the food service Bon Appetit, whose motto is “Food services for a sustainable future.” Throughout my time at St. Olaf, “Bon App,” as the students called it, made new efforts every year to improve recipes and use locally grown produce. They switched over to free-range beef my sophomore year, and by my senior year in 2010-2011 everyone at St. Olaf was aware of the effort to become more earth-friendly (and body-friendly) in their food choices and eating habits.
To me, Bon Appetit’s commitment to the planet and to us students made each meal in the cafeteria special. A high quality food service showed that the college cared about us and our health. I can’t imagine suffering through four years of canned green beans and rubbery hot dogs at a more conventional college cafeteria. I don’t think I would have been as happy, healthy or academically successful.
College students are some of the most food-conscious people around. There are dozens of student blogs that focus on food and healthy eating on a budget, as well as cooking clubs and food panels. Check out the Daily Beast’s complete list of the best college cafeterias.
Now that I have graduated, I face the monumental task of cooking food that tastes as good as the meals that my college cafeteria served me for four years. Maybe I should write to St. Olaf and ask for some recipes.
Photo from Elvertbarnes via flickr