Amherst Magazine

College Row
Two students walk through Valentine dining hall.
The Valentine salad bar features two soup stations, a deli station with a variety of meats and cheeses, and a salad bar that includes mixed greens, fresh baby spinach, cottage cheese, tofu, corn salad, bean salads, a dozen different dressings (including regular, low-fat and no-fat) and more than a dozen salad toppings.

On Ezekiel bread and other surprises

Feeding 1,650 college students can be tricky, especially at a place like Amherst, where diverse backgrounds create an array of dietary needs. Indeed, beyond the fact that everybody eats, little connects the varied dining preferences on campus. With this in mind, many have wondered how Dining Services can keep every student at Amherst happy and healthy. For these and other wonderers, behold the bountiful harvest that is Valentine.

“The salad bar is my best friend,” says junior Christi Bonin of Valentine’s five-sided salad boat. “So many options await you as you move down the line. The basic rule that I follow is ‘the more colors the better.’ That way, you get plenty of nutrients.” Sophomore Ashley Finigan agrees, “I don’t eat red meat, and I’ve been thrilled with the vegetarian and turkey options on the grill and the salad line.”

Cory Merrill ’08 prefers the specially tailored refrigerator by the organic coffee urns. “I love to drink the soymilk,” she says. “I’m not a vegetarian, but it’s great
to have such a healthy option available.” For other students, this fridge offers a variety of healthy breads, many of them wheat-free in case of allergies. The seasoned Biblical eater will even find a fresh loaf of Ezekiel bread, a natural, whole grain bread made directly from an Old Testament recipe.

Senior Jessica Rothschild doesn’t go that far, but as Valentine’s only kosher eater, she speaks highly of the staff’s efforts to accommodate her diet. “They really try hard to keep me happy,” she explains. “The reason they go out of their way for me, and they’ve told me this themselves, is because they realize how vital dining in Val is to the whole college experience. So much happens over food. They don’t want me to miss out.”

Dining Services Director Charlie Thompson elaborates, “We try to provide a large enough variety to ensure that every student has appealing, healthy options.” Students regularly offer feedback (no pun intended) in the Dining Hall suggestion box and in open forums. And Thompson welcomes e-mail at cgthompson@amherst.edu. In addition, he recently turned over his entire menu to a dietician. “She was impressed by what we’ve done, and she gave us great comments,” he explains. “She’s really helped us tweak our offerings. Our goal is to be the best we can be for our students.”

Thompson also notes that the college makes substantial efforts to support local business and agriculture. “We work with a local company called Squash. They’ve connected us to lots of local farms, with which they’ve had relationships for years. It’s great because it means we support local business and local farmers at the same time.” Indeed, Amherst’s commitment to “buying local” is extensive. In peak season, up to 75 percent of all produce served in the dining hall is locally grown.

Moreover, this trend goes back a long time. “We’ve had relationships with some of our local businesses for years,” Thompson explains. “We’ve never really thought to publicize it in the past because there didn’t seem to be much customer interest, but now, with the rise of the local foods movement, we’re really proud of the local partnerships we continue to form. Students can find local foods in most parts of our dining hall.”

Dining Hall Manager Debbie Omasta-Mokrzecki wants students to understand that they have options when they go to meals. To that end, Dining Services posts health information in the dining hall and is developing a brochure outlining available options and healthy combinations for students to try. “We had a parent call in last year to say that her daughter and her friends refused to eat at Valentine because they couldn’t find anything healthy, so [head chef] Howie Morrison and I had lunch with them. We took them on a tour of the servery and showed them everything that was available, and we haven’t had a complaint since. They were shocked at how much they had been missing!”

Bonin agrees. “The bottom line is: make sure that you’re getting a variety of foods that aren’t always coming from Pizza Man. Chat up Dave [Cetto] at the salad bar. He’ll refill the spinach any time you ask.”

— Jacob Maguire ’07

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