‘Bon Appétit!’: The Value of Fellowship at the Table
Editor’s note: Taiyo Scanlon-Kimura is a new Bon Appétit Fellow.
Though I started washing dishes in Afrikan Heritage House’s dining hall my freshman year, I didn’t realize Oberlin College’s campus dining services were managed by Bon Appétit until much later.
Instead, I first heard the words “Bon appétit!” while volunteering in Belgium as a sophomore, when I spent my winter term (a month of intensive, self-designed learning between semesters) living and working at a federal center for asylum seekers. With dozens of refugees hailing from the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and West Africa, one space in particular helped our group of five connect with the residents: the humble cafeteria where everyone convened for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. While the food did not always excite me, I was always eager to meet new faces. A Palestinian insurgent, an Iraqi journalist, families from Russia, Kosovo, Togo — all came together to break bread with entreaties of “Bon appétit,” one of the first phrases everyone learned at the center.
My experiences navigating differences of class, language, and culture in Belgium urged me to seek more adventures around the world: the following year I studied abroad for four months in Japan, my father’s homeland. Back in Ohio, I indulged my love for food by waiting tables at a barbecue restaurant, joining a kosher-halal student co-operative, and continuing to wash dishes in Afrikan Heritage House.
Before embarking for Japan, I completed another winter term project, this time tackling sustainability and leadership in northeastern Ohio. Through case studies and interviews with a range of stakeholders — farmers, lawyers, scientists, and corporate officers — I began to grasp the tangled web between the wickedly complex issues of climate change, public policy, profitability, and social justice. But more importantly, I was honing a framework for action, a systems-based approach to learning and labor that allowed me to marry my commitment to cultural exchange with my passion for food.
After graduating from Oberlin (with a double major in politics and East Asian studies), I returned to Japan on a Fulbright grant to study local food systems as drivers of rural communities. With four apprenticeships and another dozen interviews across three of Japan’s four main islands, I gained considerable perspective on the unique constraints and opportunities for food producers in different regions.
Yet even as I engaged with completely new people and environments, I was struck by the parallels to my previous experiences in Belgium and Ohio. Like a classic recipe, authentic relationships draw on a handful of time-honored ingredients: genuine questions, active listening, and enthusiasm for charting new territory.
In both food and personal connection, the philosophy of “bon appétit” has enriched my time in college and beyond. I am tremendously excited to launch my fellowship at Bon Appétit, a company whose name and values have reflected the same philosophy since its inception.