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Food As a Contact Zone at Bryn Mawr

A few weeks ago, Bryn Mawr secured the tenth spot on The Princeton Review’s annual Best Campus Food ranking. Bryn Mawr’s dining services have consistently been known for their high-quality, nutritional, sustainable, and accommodating meals. As first years students, our contact with the dining hall has been primarily through eating meals and working shifts, so we were curious about the further intricacies of the food service that occur before we arrive at Erdman or Haffner and after we leave.

The dining hall can be an important contact zone where people meet with distinct personal or cultural food preferences and dietary restrictions. However, other forms of contact seem to be missing; with so many middlemen, there is little to no relationships between us and the source of our food. We are interested in exploring the inner workings of this dining system to understand where our food comes from, how meals accommodate and satisfy the diverse student body, and maybe even what happens once the leftovers are deemed donatable or compost.



Amanda: I was raised with the privilege of having access to local produce and sustainably sourced or traded groceries. Coming to Bryn Mawr, I was happy to see that Dining Services cares about being local, sustainable, and environmentally conscious. For this reason, I want to better understand the sources of the food I eat everyday. How much of it can we actually trace back to its original location? How much of it is locally sourced and how much comes from a big distributer? How much of it comes from factory farms compared smaller, sustainable farms? How much flexibility does Bryn Mawr Dining Services have in deciding where it sources its food?

Jennifer: Growing up I ate mostly Korean and other Asian food. After coming to Bryn Mawr, I realized that my eating habits changed from when I was at home. As I realized this change, I became interested in how the menus were chosen and what led the dining halls in deciding on them. Through this project, I want to access the contact zones in accommodating international students and students from different religious/cultural backgrounds. I am interested in how Bryn Mawr is responding to the needs of not only vegetarian and vegan students but also students from different cultures and backgrounds. My goal is to answer the following questions: How do dining services access each student’s needs (vegetarian/vegan/gluten free/ “ethnic” bar etc.)? How do students feel about the “ethnic” bars? Particularly students who are very familiar with that type of ethnic food? How do Dining Services decide the meals and menus? What do dining services do to keep its high ranking in “Best dining Services”? Do students actually use the napkin notes system to give Dining Services feedback? How is this feedback recieved?



Amanda: In order to learn where our food comes from, I will conduct interviews with Bryn Mawr Dining Services staff including Executive Director Bernie Chung-Templeton, Richard Clow, and David Chase. I will also gather as much information as is available about locally sourced produce on the Bryn Mawr Dining Services website. I hope to then get in contact with any local farmers or local sources to interview them as well. After this research, I would like to write little profiles of the different sources I discover in order to humanize the mystery of where our meals come from and to foster human contact between students and the people growing their food.

Jennifer: To determine the relationship between food/dining services and students, I will first  interview Erdman/ Haffner managers and Dining Services on how they are accommodating students by asking the following questions: How are they responding to student needs? What are their priorities in addressing student needs? What measures do they use to accommodate all students?(Special Diet Needs Form, napkin notes, email, surveys etc) What factors are considered in deciding the menus? Then I will interview students (international, religious backgrounds etc.) on how responsive they feel the dining hall is to them by asking: Are they satisfied with the food and choices they are given? Are their needs met? Does the school really accommodate their needs?What meals would they like to see in the dining halls?

Following the acquisition of ingredients and the cooking of our meals, Dining Services also handles the food leftovers. In order to illuminate the process through which Dining Services deals with the waste, we will also inquire about composting and donation of extra food during our interviews with staff. We will also contact the composting facility and the food bank organization Bryn Mawr works with. Through this research, we hope to present a complete story about food at Bryn Mawr and the contact zones that are implicated.



Anne Dalke's picture

Amanda and Jennifer--
I’m so interested in the ways in which your different interests in how Dining Services operates @ Bryn Mawr are going to intersect (or come into conflict?!). With Amanda looking at the sources of the food served here—negotiations with suppliers--and Jennifer looking @ how the menus are decided on—via what negotiations with what students?—you’ll be covering both input and output: where it comes from, where it goes. And what role does Dining Services play in negotiating the relations between their suppliers and their consumers? I’m also tickled to see that your inquiry won’t stop with the eating, but will attend to the leftovers: how is waste disposed of? What are the costs and implications of that process?

Coupla questions about your plan: will you conduct interviews with Bernie, Richard and David together? (Am thinking about your being both respectful of their time and efficient with your questions!) How will Jennifer select the students she interviews? Might Amanda–once she learns some more about sourcing, and pricing, and balancing the budget—also interview students to see how they think about these matters? How much more might they/their parents/financial aid sources be willing to pay for more locally sourced produce, or more diverse offerings? Do their needs encompass “taking back the market,” or thinking about the short- and long-term costs of the sort of food they prefer?