A Summer with Bon Appétit

We're happy to welcome Nina Merrill as our intern this summer at the Bon Appétit Management Company corporate office. It's only her second week and already she has jumped right in with much enthusiasm and has contributed great ideas. Here's Nina's story about how she became interested in college food service and how she crossed paths with Bon Appétit:

As a senior at a university in upstate New York, I have experienced firsthand the direct impact campus food service has on students’ lives.  I grew up with a mother who professed the importance of local and organic food at every opportunity (I was that kid on the playground that you never wanted to trade lunches with…thank you, Mom).   So, with that background in mind, during my freshman year, my body was quite simply shocked by all the chemicals and pesticides that I was unconsciously ingesting from the lunch line (not a Bon Appétit café).  This change of diet resulted in debilitating migraine headaches that left me out of commission for days at a time…not exactly the ideal first semester of college if you ask me.  I took that semester off to recoup and pledged to always eat local and organic from that point forward (which meant weekly, hour-long trips to the nearest “sustainable” supermarket in the boonies of upstate New York).  In my very firm opinion, no student’s physical or mental health should ever be jeopardized because of their school’s meal plan requirement! Since then, I have become passionate about helping to enhance sustainable food options on college campuses nationwide.


Last summer, while interning at the Organic Trade Association (OTA), I developed the Organic on the Green blog, which aims to offer sustainably-minded students an arena to discuss their organic campus initiatives.  Every week for the last year, a different student has written an essay about a topic of his or her choice, subjects ranging from beginning a student-run garden to starting a CSA to composting in the dining halls.  I also authored the Taste the Change: How to Go Organic on Campus Guide, published in early 2009 for the Organic Institute.  This publication brings together many of the ideas discussed on the blog and hopes to offer suggestions and stories to inspire students to become organic campus advocates.  It was through the cultivation of the blog and student guide that I was introduced to the amazing work of Bon Appétit Management Company. 


While doing research for these projects, I had the opportunity to speak to hundreds of individuals from colleges and universities all around the country.  It only took a few days to notice something really interesting; students from Bon Appétit schools were having an entirely different dining experience than those students who were eating food provided by other companies.  Time and time again, I listened to them rave about the food at their universities, talking about how Bon Appétit really listened to their ideas and how “sustainability” was the company’s mantra, not some gimmicky PR move.  To say that I was jealous of their experiences would truly be an understatement.  I just knew that I had to become a part of this innovative company. 


So, with this passion and excitement in mind, I moved from New York to California, from snow to sun, to intern with Bon Appétit for the summer!  While today is only my fourth day, I can truly say that Bon Appétit really walks the walk.  Everyone here lives and breathes the company’s mission of sustainability, from the compostable cups and fair trade coffee in the break room to the granola and trail mix on tap I find myself presently tempted by.  I am amazed at how such a large company can feel like such a small, warm, and welcoming family, and from what students I have spoken to have told me, this feeling comes through in the food served at their cafés (maybe I’ll even get to go and get my first taste at a local Bon Appétit café: hint, hint).  I am thrilled to be here, and look forward to updating you periodically on my summer internship experiences in Palo Alto.