Friday, February 27, 2009

Sage vs Commons

Today while dining in our very own Russel Sage dining hall, I was struck by a few quesitons. How does Sage fare compared to Commons in terms of variety and appeal, as well as nutrition? I asked my friend Onoki about what he thought about the selection in sage vs commons, and he told me that there was a bit more variety in commons. A big difference he noted, however, was the positioning of the salad bar in commons vs sage. In sage, the sald bars stand on islands, far away from the normal food line flow, but in between the main food line and the grill. In sage however, the sald bar is located directly across the way from the main food line, which includes the grill. I asked Onoki if he felt drawn to, or felt like one set up was more inviting than the other, and his response was that neither stood out in particular, that it was just different. I would be curious however, to look into the appeal of one set up over the other on a larger scale, perhaps by interviewing a large group of people.

If it were possible, I would interview Clarence Saunders to ask his opinion on the setup of collge dining halls. Dining halls at RPI certainly don’t funnel you in to force you to pick things up, but rather have the open air of an all-you-can-eat food bar that is appealing in its inviting nature. In a college setting, it would not be economic for the food providers to manipulate our choice such that we feel the need to pick up anyhting and everything. But that doesn’t mean that dining halls can’t be specific about the way they manipulate the space so as to subconsciously guide us to healthier foods.

In researching the styles that different schools employ in their cafeterias, I found that many schools these days are trending towards more selective, higher ticket food in orde to attract students whose parents probably have more money, whether that is at USC, University of Chicago, or Columbia. An outlier I found was in College of the Atlantic—their main theme is local and organic everything; they even have their own farm (ecology is huge at College of the Atlantic) !

In asking other students, they told me that they felt no real difference between the set up in Sage vs Commons, although one student felt the salad bar at Commons was more appealing due to the crutons, whereas Sage’s salad bar is a lot greener. Despite responses to my direct question about the differences in setup, I am not convinced that set-up doesn’t matter. My opinion is that with better presentation, college dining halls can promote healthier foods (not necessarily salad bars, but whatever is healthiest in their selection), and direct student towards a healthier lifestyle.

New programs have been springing up, however, such as STARS--Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System, as well as the Real Food Challenge, and CASFS--Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems, which promote local and organic foods by appealing to our culture’s sense of competition by awarding points that lend toward higher ratings. If food deserts are springing up because non-local food distributors are swelling, maybe the way to restructure this growing imbalance in our nation is to attack the flow of food not going to our residential cities, but to our schools.

I mean hey, who doesn’t like a friendly competition?

http://online.wsj.com/article/0,,SB1036711327163385908,00.html?mod=at_leisure_main_weekend_journal_ends_only

http://www.wiretapmag.org/environment/43530/

*the picture is not giving you the middle finger

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