Not long ago, Food Corps sent the Bon Appétit Management Company headquarters a couple of t-shirts that proclaimed us “Friends of Food Corps,” and we couldn’t be more proud. The recipient of our 2013 annual gift, Food Corps is a national service organization that partners with AmeriCorps to place emerging leaders in underserved communities to teach kids about real food and help them grow up healthy.
It is no surprise, then, that Bon Appétit chefs have eagerly prepared the meals for Food Corps volunteer orientation for three years running. And this time, as Bon Appétit’s West Coast Fellow, I had the pleasure of joining these newest volunteers for a few days of their summer orientation, hosted by Lewis & Clark College in Portland, OR, where Bon Appétit has handled the dining and catering for 25 years.
The volunteers met in small groups for activities throughout each orientation day but gathered together for each meal. One of the main goals of the orientation was for all of the volunteers to come together as a community. And, as us foodies know, one of the best ways to strengthen a sense of community is to share a meal. Even better: sitting in a café surrounded by windows, on one of the most beautiful campuses in the country, in the beautiful northwestern summer, sharing three locally inspired meals every day for a week!
Meals were prepared by our amazing Lewis & Clark Bon Appétit team, led by Executive Chef Scott Clagett and Executive Sous Chef Derek Sandlin Webb. To name a few of my plant-based favorites, Scott and Derek prepared quinoa farro cakes; baked tofu spread with pear chutney; and an abundance of local vegetables, including sweet corn, green bean salad, stuffed eggplant and ratatouille.
Aside from my job as the self-appointed vegan food taster, I worked with Operations Manager Dan Sprauer and Café Supervisor Bonnie Von Zange to organize a table with a different theme during dinner on three nights, which let me learn more about the volunteers’ experiences and passion for food while sharing the Bon Appétit perspective.
With 200 young food activists in the café, I was revving up for some in-depth conversations about our policies. To my pleasant surprise, students were blown away by what Bon Appétit is doing as a company and were so excited to learn more from me. It was a wonderful reminder of how ahead of the curve Bon Appétit is.
He told me that his week at Food Corps orientation was filled with entirely new food experiences, and he made sure to taste everything once, no matter how different it was from what he was used to.
On Monday evening, the room was abuzz with excitement about the fresh wild-caught Washington salmon that Scott had purchased from our Farm to Fork partner, the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians. The Food Corps organizers insisted that Scott make a special announcement to the volunteers about it. Eating the salmon and hearing the story behind it inspired the volunteers to want to learn more about sustainable seafood, a topic that is often less talked about in the sustainable food world, perhaps because it is such a complicated issue. Two volunteers came to my table to hear more about our seafood sourcing and our partnership with Seafood Watch. As the volunteers left my table, one of them turned to me and said that she had learned more about seafood in just a few minutes than she had ever imagined — a huge compliment!
On Tuesday evening, I was joined by Diana Foss, the director of Urban Gleaners, the local food recovery organization that collects surplus from Lewis & Clark three times a week and supplies food to school food pantries all over Portland. We handed out “kitchen sink” granola bars and chatted with students about waste reduction and low carbon food choices.
We were approached by a young man who had a very different experience from most of the other volunteers. He grew up on a reservation in Arizona, and, tasting the granola bar, he mentioned how great it would be if the folks in his community were given cooking lessons on how to incorporate things like oats into something delicious, like our team had done with the granola bars. He was also fascinated by the idea of recovering and donating prepared food in his community. He told me that his week at Food Corps orientation was filled with entirely new food experiences, and he made sure to taste everything once, no matter how different it was from what he was used to.
My conversation with him made me realize something else: our Bon Appétit team wasn’t just serving food and providing information about our policies, we were sharing ideas that they could take back to the communities they were serving. And that’s what “breaking bread” — or healthy granola bars — together should be all about!