A Fervent Farewell to the Bon Appétit Fellowship

A young woman stands behind a farm to table display with bowls of produce arrayed in front of her.

Elise at a pickling pop-up!

There’s no job quite like the Bon Appétit Fellowship. One day, you might find yourself writing emails, drafting social media posts, and collecting recipes for an upcoming dorm-friendly cooking class. The next day, you might be bumping around in an old truck with a Farm to Fork partner giving you a private tour of his fifth-generation family farm, scraping countless plates of uneaten food in the name of food waste awareness, or facilitating a community conversation about campus food systems with a climate action group.  

After five semesters as the Midwest Fellow, I’ve had countless opportunities to engage with food systems in creative ways. These experiences have instilled a deeper understanding of the realities of food service and sustainability at large. This broadened perspective has added nuance to my food systems experience, and kept me continually inspired by passionate students, chefs, and farmers that I’ve had the pleasure to work with and learn from.  

Of those many “a-ha!” moments and gradual realizations, here are my three biggest takeaways from the Fellowship:  

Sustainability initiatives are only as strong as our relationships!  

When I began this role, I assumed that the nitty-gritty details of our purchasing policies and commitments would be the most important factor in considering the impact of our purchasing decisions on the environment, farmers, animals, and the people we serve. I’ve since learned that the relationships encouraged by those policies — with compost vendors, local farmers, food recovery partners, student groups, and more— are even more important than the policy on its own.  

A young woman and an alpaca goat on a farm

Relationships with alpacas are important too. With Georgie the Alpaca at the White Violet Center for Eco-Justice.


On a local level, it’s easy to imagine how developing mutual trust between our chefs with community and campus partners helps us make strides in our waste reduction and local purchasing goals. Without those partnerships — for instance, a composting company goes out of business or an environmental group dissolves — our ability to reach that goal might get temporarily derailed as we work to find a new partner.  

As an example on a larger scale, meeting our gestation crate policy was only made possible when we found a large pork producer that was willing to raise pigs with a higher degree of animal welfare. In both cases, the constant work of finding and maintaining strong relationships is a powerful aspect of sustainability work that can get overshadowed by the flashier data points and long-term vision.  

When in doubt, improvise it out! 

During the many events I’ve hosted during my Fellowship (by my count, over 300!), I’ve come to anticipate the unexpected and have figured out how to adapt on the fly. No projector, no kitchen, no printer? No problem! Taking a nod from improv, I have learned how to “yes, and…” my way through any situation, from planning to execution, to better achieve our mission to strengthen and promote students’ engagement with campus food systems.  

During the planning phase, I’ve learned to approach collaboration with teams and student groups with openness and flexibility, to better adapt to the needs and interests of the campus communities I am visiting. When students were concerned about waste, we worked on developing a food waste workshop to provide a platform for open dialogue about creating opportunities for waste diversion initiatives on campus. And when a club approached me with a dream to develop a new interactive cooking demo, we put our heads together to host a tie dye and black bean taco night using food scraps from our dinner to create colorful natural dyes. The most meaningful events I’ve hosted have all emerged in close collaboration with students and staff.  

And lastly, institutional purchasing really does matter.  

I have long grappled with the impact of addressing food systems issues from a top-down versus bottom-up approach. I’ve questioned whether market-based solutions can fix the problems that market forces helped create. Through this role, I’ve also witnessed the magnitude of the real-life positive impacts our purchasing policies have on the environment, animal welfare, and local economies. I had the privilege of engaging with many incredible local farmers and artisans as a Fellow, from tofu producers to regenerative vegetable and poultry farmers.  

So many of these local food leaders have expressed a deep gratitude for the reliable purchasing relationship they’ve developed with our Bon Appétit chefs, which they describe as transformational for their small family business.  

When institutional purchasing is guided by values rather than money alone, the scale of what can be achieved is powerful, especially when zooming in on the individuals actively building a more resilient, nourishing, and climate-smart food system.  

To future Fellows, my advice is this: savor each visit and the unique experiences, growth opportunities, and new perspectives it presents. Hang on to that spark that got you into this work in the first place and use each potential roadblock as a chance to understand how to best adapt while not compromising your vision for a more just, sustainable world. And enjoy the ride— there may be bumps in the road but the journey sure is sweet.