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reed magazine logoDecember 2010

Finding Balance continued

The cornerstone of this philosophy is making commons feel more like a restaurant than a cafeteria. "In a cafeteria, what you see is institutional," she says. "The lunch ladies. Food being slopped onto plates. Mystery meat. It's all sort of robotic. There's no authenticity. The essence of the food is lost."

"In a restaurant, you can smell the food being prepared," she continues. "You see it being prepared. You go there to eat, of course, but you also go to be with people."

The kitchen is organized like a restaurant, with an executive chef who writes a menu based on seasonality and availability of local produce. Virtually all the food in commons is prepared from scratch, and served by the people who make it. "There's a lot of passion behind the creation of this food," Bridges says. "The chefs take a lot of pride in it."

Commons also practices "stealth nutrition"—instead of giving students a "healthy" choice and an "unhealthy" one, chefs try to make sure all the options are nutritious. Rather than slathering a sandwich in mayonnaise, for example, chefs might deploy a chutney instead. And with dietary restrictions increasingly common, Bon Appétit is committed to offering vegetarian and vegan entrées that go beyond the salad bar.

Commons underwent a redesign three years ago that expanded the servery to allow more stations. The redesign reduced the number of tables in the seating area, but that actually produced some benefits—fewer tables mean that diners tend to interact with each other more. "It has helped create a vibrant space," Bridges says.

Bon Appétit supports local producers whenever possible. On a recent lunch, the tomatoes came from Flamingo Ridge, the squash from Zenger Farms, and the kale from Deep Roots Farm, all close to Portland; the apples and pears from A&J Orchards in Hood River; and the beef from Oregon Country Beef. For fish, it follows the guidelines from the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Tuna, for example, is caught hook-and-line or troll-and-pole from a fishery based in Coquille, Oregon.

Variety and freshness are constant challenges. "If you went to the same restaurant three times a day, seven days a week, you'd get tired of it even if it was the best restaurant in the world," Bridges says. "So we are always striving to keep things fresh and different." One successful initiative has been the popular Daily Planet, which features the cuisine of a particular nation or geographic area for a whole week. Chefs sit down with students who hail from that part of the world; draw up a menu; prepare the dishes; and serve it together, sometimes wearing traditional costumes. Recent examples include Ghana, Korea, Tunisia, Bangladesh, Italy, France, and Louisiana.

In contrast to years past, commons also serves food on a "declining balance" model—in other words, students deposit money into an account at the beginning of the semester, which is then debited depending on the food items they choose—as opposed to the old model, which was basically free refills of everything. Bon Appétit has found that the declining balance model reduces waste and promotes student autonomy.

Life Lessons

Reed's commitment to help its students find balance in their lives is not just aimed at improving their academic performance—although that's mostly what students care about—but also at making them well-rounded people.

"Our students are intensely focused on their studies," says Dean Brody. "Whitewater rafting doesn't change that—but it helps them explore different parts of themselves. For many of them, novelty is inherently interesting. They love to experiment. So we provide a wide range of healthy activities for them to experiment with. We encourage them to bring their intellectual curiosity—the intellectual curiosity that makes them Reedies—to all their endeavors."

Adventuresome Spirits

Reed employs more than 70 outstanding instructors and coaches to help students push their limits.

Miwa McRee

Rodney Sofich teaches rock climbing and backcountry navigation and leads students on wilderness expeditions. A professional mountain guide, he made headlines last year for his role in a dramatic rescue in the North Cascades. (See "On the Ledge," Reed, March 2010.)

Miwa McRee

Miwa McRee '92 has fenced since 1986, and has been a fencing instructor at the Studio of American Fencing, Portland Parks and Recreation, and Reed College over the last 15 years. Miwa has fenced competitively at both the local and national level in all three weapons, but prefers to fence recreationally. Her teaching approach is to encourage students to have fun, to learn to be more aware and adaptable, and to grow as both individuals and fencers.

Miwa McRee

Jay Stewart teaches contemplative meditation. She has a master's degree in anthropology from the University of California and has practiced meditation regularly for over 30 years. She studies and practices Tibetan Buddhism. She is also a teacher and meditation instructor at the Portland Shambhala Center. At Reed, she takes a secular approach to meditation, focusing on its potential for sharpening concentration and deepening the ability to relax at will.

Miwa McRee

Val Shaull teaches canoeing and whitewater rafting. A Vietnam veteran and retired firefighter, Val pioneered several descents on Class V drops and is a legend in the local paddling community. He is an active member of Team River Runner, a nonprofit that brings the thrill of whitewater to injured and disabled veterans.

reed magazine logoDecember 2010