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Hillsides Goes Zero Contact

If you’ve passed through the first floor of Maloney at any point since the beginning of November, the first thing you probably noticed was the resurgence of life in an area that had previously been empty and gated off. Students are once again populating the tables: zeroed in on homework, chatting over coffee, or scarfing down a panini with chips and a pickle. For anyone not new to Boston College campus this year, this is a familiar feeling for Hillside Cafe. But look closer and you’ll see something startlingly unfamiliar about the new setup. Replacing the Starbucks coffee bar where you used to be able to sit is now two, hulking metal lockers labeled “B” and “C.” “Seems like a strange place to put an Amazon pickup center,” you might think. But then you see a student place their phone under a scanner, and just like magic, a locker pops open. What they take out is not a box from Bezos, but a smoothie and a bagel! This is the new Hillside experience at BC, one that more and more students continue to discover each day.

It’s no question that BC Dining underwent significant changes throughout the course of the semester. Students rejoiced at every win they could get. First, the return of Eagles Nest and Addie’s Loft, offering their old favorites made through pre-order only using the Get Mobile. After that, CoRo Cafe reopened with their signature Starbucks drinks and newly added smoothies, providing students on Upper and CoRo a place to grab a morning coffee or midday sugary pick-me-up. Perhaps the biggest victory to student morale was the return of late-night three nights a week, with returning favorites such as chicken fingers, fries, onion rings, and mozzarella sticks. And most recently, Hillside. 

Like Addie’s and Eagles, Hillside is exclusively doing orders through GET Mobile. What makes the Hillside’s experience different is that there’s zero customer contact along the way, not even when picking up your order. In a time when every interaction comes with the chance of spreading Covid, taking humans out of the equation is objectively the safest option. Assuming all employees behind the lockers are following CDC safety procedures, Hillside’s new method should be 100% Covid proof. In addition to maximum pandemic precautions, there are plenty of other benefits to the cafe’s new locker system. For students who are on the go, they have the option to place an order for a specific time and pick it up at their leisure. To summarize the pros of the system: quick, safe, and hassle free. 

Like any new implementation at BC, there are reasons for pushback as well. A common complaint is that because of limited locker space, an order will be removed from its designated location if it has not been picked up in a specific window of time. Thus begins the ordeal of ringing the doorbell, asking for a manager, showing them proof of your order and providing your name, and ultimately receiving your order, which may be too cold or too warm, depending on what you ordered. There’s also the question of, “What if your phone dies?” or, “What if the text message never goes through?” Logistically all these frustatations are valid, but solvable. The one complaint that can’t be solved is a remark I’ve heard from many of my friends and Hillside customers. The new system is, simply put, “weird.”

While working through this article, I’ve tried to pinpoint why I agree with the latter. I’m used to using mailboxes to retrieve mail, lockers to store my clothes and books. So why is food any different? I believe it is because food is meant to connect, but Covid, by nature, has created distance in exchange for protection. It all comes down to the question of safety versus service, a tension felt in almost every sector affected by the virus. For dine in restaurants, servers are told by managers and the CDC to stay distanced from their customers and limit time spent at tables. I know through my personal experience with BC dining as a barista that what I look forward to the most while doing my job isn’t making coffees, but connecting with customers. Think of your own experiences. Has a friendly conversation with the cashier at late-night ever made your evening? Have you ever made an odd connection with a waiter because they weren’t afraid to strike up a conversation? Do these interactions make you appreciate your food a little bit more?

At the end of the day, everyone has to make sacrifices for the sake of stopping the spread of the virus, and I don’t think that being able to have a chat with your neighborhood barista is the be all, end all. But for customers and food service workers, it’s a crucial part of dining, no matter if it’s at a five-star restaurant or right in our little BC backyard. The Hillside lockers may be here for now, but as long as they stay hunks of metal, it won’t be the same as a true BC dining experience. 

Cover photo courtesy of the BC Dining Instagram.

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Let Your Food Rot: How and Why Everyone Should Compost

Whether you are bunkered down in your dorm room or home for the rest of the semester, you are still producing food waste. Without the three color-coordinated trash cans in the dining hall, it can be difficult to know what waste should be recycled, thrown out, or composted. And while many have a basic knowledge of the items that can be recycled, composting can be an unknown frontier. 

The average person produces 219 pounds of food waste per year, the majority of which ends up in landfills. Items rotting in landfills are then incinerated, which produces almost one-fourth of all methane emissions in the US. However, if all eligible food and produce scraps were composted, landfills nationwide would be a quarter less full. 

Composting household produce is a simple task that all family units should strive to make a common practice. With basic knowledge of how and what to compost, a small-scale movement to reduce personal carbon emissions has the ability to drastically reduce the national carbon footprint. 

Compost is simply organic items that can break down and be used to fertilize soil and help plants grow. This loose definition sets the tone for the wide array of things that can be composted. All uncooked fruits and vegetables, egg shells, coffee grinds, tea bags, paper, cardboard, leaves, hair and fur, and house plants should not be thrown into the trash, as they can naturally break down. This long list of compostable items is matched with an equally lengthy list of things that should  strictly be tossed into the trash, however. Meat or fish scraps, dairy products, oils, and pet wastes cannot be composted because of their odors, which attract pests. 

Image courtesy of The Guardian

With “organic food items” defined, the at-home process of composting comes together nicely, as those produce scraps can be kept in any closed container. This prevents bugs from potentially being attracted to the food. There are also compostable bags that eliminate odor and allow for easy removal from the container. This little bin or bag can be kept in any easily-accessible place in your home or apartment. 

The unwanted produce, however, does not decompose into compost for months. As most people do not want food quite literally rotting in their apartments for long periods of time, there are many ways to dispose of the collected scraps, so that they can transform into compost eventually. 

Most apartment buildings have a compost collection system or have a nearby community garden that collects food scraps. Alternatively, many restaurants and grocery stores will accept food scraps. Some suburban towns, like Newton, MA, have even started a compost collection service alongside their trash and recycling programs. This gives households the ability to collect food scraps for a month, and then have it whisked away to a site somewhere in their community that collects and distributes the compost.

By actively collecting and properly disposing of food scraps, households can quickly slash their contributions to the massive landfills in the U.S. that are rapidly releasing methane. 

Methane is produced alongside carbon dioxide in landfills but has quickly become a more urgent worry for environmentalists, as it is 84 times as potent as carbon dioxide. This gas has a larger impact on the ozone layer than the other omnipresent gases in the atmosphere. Composting organic food scraps ultimately cuts down on the amount of methane released from landfills, which helps reduce the nation’s contribution to the rapid and harmful processes of climate change. 

It is worth noting, however, that this small step is not enough to completely eliminate the emissions of all greenhouse gases, specifically methane. Oil companies are the largest contributors of methane emissions in the U.S., and they need to be held accountable for their  environmental impact. 

Even though these emissions are due to the actions of large companies, everyday people can make palatable, small changes to help reduce the worldwide impact of these emissions. While one person’s actions may not make an enormous impact directly, the collective effort of consumers to reduce their trash productions and increase their compost production can add up to greatly reduce individuals’ contributions to climate change. 

Cover photo courtesy of City of Ames

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From CSOM to Cider Maker: The Story of Boston College Entrepreneur Jake Mazar

One of our very own, Boston College Class of 2008 graduate Jake Mazar, has blazed a path in the food and beverage industry as an entrepreneur. Mazar is the co-founder and co-owner of two successful businesses: Artifact Cider Project and Wheelhouse. Artifact Cider Project is a Massachusetts-based hard cider company, which collects apples from local orchards in Massachusetts, New York, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine to make hard cider. Artifact sells canned ciders and kegs, and has recently expanded to include two tap rooms in Cambridge, MA and Florence, MA.  Wheelhouse is an Amherst, MA- based catering company. “We take raw ingredients grown by local producers, which in this case is a variety of ingredients, including vegetables, meats, dairy, even grains, sourcing from over 40 different farms, and we turn them into dining experiences for people and catered events,” Mazar explains. Wheelhouse caters ticketed farm events and private events such as weddings. 

Soham Bhatt (on left) and Jake Mazar (on right): co-founders of the Artifact Cider Project.

Mazar’s path to being a food and beverage entrepreneur was nowhere close to traditional. “Life has a lot of twists and turns,” he says before beginning his story. Mazar was a finance and economics major at the Carroll School of Management at Boston College. Despite a lacking interest in the subjects, he took the finance road because it was secure, and it reflected his father’s career. His first experience with the food world came during a summer internship after his junior year abroad in Cape Town, South Africa. “I spent that summer in Ghana, doing an internship with smallholder farmers and microfinance research,” Mazar begins. “I was in a relatively remote village in Ghana, working with farmers and with a bank… A lot of my CSOM friends were interning in New York in banking, while I was in a village living in a broken down house that didn’t have electricity and sometimes no running water. This was the first thing that really got me out of the bubble I had grown up in and spent a lot of my high school and college time in. This was a cool experience to get me to think differently about ways of being in the world and what I wanted to do.”

After graduation, Mazar spent some time in the corporate world, working at L.E.K. Consulting in Boston. Enduring 2 years of a desk job, Mazar felt “burnt out from long hours, 80-hour weeks, and staying past midnight at the office consistently.” Mazar shares, “I had gotten everything I could’ve out of that experience and I didn’t feel any moral value in what we were doing.” He then moved on to TechnoServe, an organization funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, through which he returned to sub-saharan Africa to do more work with smallholder farmers, researching soybean farmers in Zambia, Malawi, and South Africa. “I loved it. It was awesome. It was a cool combination of the skills I’d learned in consulting and what I had enjoyed about the internship I had in college,” Mazar recounts. However, he confesses that it was too difficult to be away from his friends and family, so he returned to the United States at the end of his six-month contract. Back in Boston, Mazar worked at EnerNOC, a clean tech company, which he felt combined his interests in the environment and his business background. Unfortunately, a year into the job, Mazar once again found himself feeling “burnt out” and unfulfilled. He bravely decided to leave, spurring a big change in his life.

“This was actually the hardest decision I made during my career. I left the business world and I started vegetable farming. I took an apprenticeship in Martha’s Vineyard and spent a year working on a farm. I was pulling out weeds by hand, doing some harvesting, tractor maintenance, and driving a tractor. Doing the really nitty gritty stuff, and nothing business related,” Mazar reveals. He calls this “a really big departure from the path that he was on,” as his peers and colleagues headed to MBA programs and kept moving up in the business world while he started over on a farm. Mazar confesses, “I had a lot of doubts when I made this decision, but it ended up being one of the best decisions of my life. It put me on a very different trajectory.” He spent the next two years working at a farm in Amherst, MA, where he met his wife Lila and his friend Will Van Heuvelen, who is now his business partner at Wheelhouse. Mazar reflects on his time working in farms, saying, “It was one of the most formative experiences in my life because [I discovered] what I was passionate about and cared about, [I met] these people who were so influential, and [I grew and developed] as a person.”

In 2013, during his third year doing farm work, inspired by Johnny Appleseed and the history of apple cider in our country, Mazar had the idea to start his own cider company.  He reached out to his high school friend, Soham Bhatt, an engineer who was passionate about food and beverage, and together they co-founded Artifact Cider Project. Bhatt handles the apple sourcing and production of cider, while Mazar handles the business management side of the enterprise. They rented a small space in Springfield, MA and grew Artifact slowly, while each still maintaining a full-time job as a farmworker and engineer, respectively. They would make cider and bottles during nights and weekends. As the business grew, Mazar and Bhatt transitioned to working at Artifact full-time and expanded the company by moving to a bigger production warehouse in Northampton, MA and hiring full-time employees.  “There’s many ways to start companies,” Mazar says, “but we did it in a very slow, bootstrapped, cautious way. We tried to invest as little as we could out front and slowly grew it.” Artifact cider now sells across over 2,000 locations in nine different states, and the business has grown to include twelve full-time employees and ten part-time employees.

In 2014, Mazar and his friend and fellow farm colleague Will Van Heuvelen had the idea to start a food business. They toyed around with the idea of a restaurant, catering business, or food truck, eventually buying a food truck on Craig’s List. Mazar recounts, “We started out super small, scrappy, barebones. We bought an old food trailer and renovated it, turning it into a nicer food trailer and started doing events, and the company has kept growing year after year. Wheelhouse expanded so much that Mazar and Van Heuvelen now own a brick and mortar location in Amherst, MA, in a building which used to be an old restaurant. Wheelhouse caters 75-100 events per year and has seven full-time employees and sixty part-time employees.

Mazar offers some advice for students who are interested in being a food/beverage entrepreneur but may not have a business/finance background as he does, “In my case, since I didn’t know as much about the cider production side of things, I found a business partner who did. I recommend doing the same. My business partners have learned more about the finance side and I have learned more about cider making. Finding people to complement your skills is very important. It doesn’t have to be a co-founder or co-owner, it can be people that you hire to help or teach you. And I’d also say that the business knowledge you need to run a small business is not that complicated. Business tends to be something that’s intimidating to people because of the accounting and the lingo, but it’s definitely something you can teach yourself. There are a lot of resources online. You can learn it. You don’t need to go get a degree.” 

Mazar leaves us with a few words of wisdom about big life and career changes. “I felt scared when switching from business to farming. It was a hard decision. The people that knew me best were very supportive and understood why I was making that decision, but there were definitely a lot of people, probably the majority of people, who thought I was crazy and going through a phase and would go back to business school after a couple of years. There was a lot of soul searching involved. The one thing I always like to remind people is you only have to figure out what you want to do for the next year. Just because you take a job it doesn’t mean that that’s what you are going to do forever or that that is who you are. It doesn’t have to define what you’re doing. You can always make changes. Life is so broad and there are so many things you can do. There is no right path. There’s only the path for you. There’s so many options that can work for you and fulfill you and add value to the world. Find what that is for you. Don’t be afraid to keep searching and finding different things. If what you’re doing doesn’t work for you, don’t be afraid to change it!”

All images courtesy of @artifactcider on Instagram.

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Jim’s Deli and the Nostalgia of Hope

Maybe it was Eddie Money shouting Take. Me. Home. TONIGHT. on the speakers, or the clinking of metal spatulas on a 4-person griddle. Maybe it was the abundance of green vinyl booths in the absence of tables, or the cafeteria trays whereon the jocular line cooks with slicked-back hair will place your chosen sandwich. 

Was it the Reuben I ordered, a fortress of crisp, dark rye bread housing the precarious load of sauerkraut, pastrami, Swiss cheese and Thousand Island dressing that, for some reason, reminded me of When Harry Met Sally? Or, maybe it was the absolute lack of signage denoting a pandemic that made me feel, for a brief and beautiful meal, that I wasn’t in 2020 but in 1989.

I, of course, wasn’t alive in the ‘80s. All I have to go off of are the action movies my father’s shown me and a recent revival of ‘80s nostalgia. The sleek boxiness of an ’88 Quattro, big windbreakers and even bigger hair, and optimism—that sweet, sweet optimism. To feel on top of the world, Reuben in hand, is a unique elation. So, it didn’t surprise me at all to learn that Jim’s Deli, a Brighton cultural institution, was opened by brothers Jim and Nick Tziavas in 1985. 

Jim, fittingly, is the first person you see upon entering. He’ll take a break from slicing some steak, pouring some pancakes, or building a burger and ask what he can get for you. You’ll say anything from eggs and bacon to a Pu pu platter, and he’ll oblige.

You wait, and as you in your patience look around the restaurant, you’ll see a large mural depicting old Brighton, with a pair of anachronous train tracks rolling down the middle. The road to Jim’s was long and flanked by history turned nostalgic as time floats lazily by. Your thoughts are interrupted by Jim calling out the name of whatever you ordered, and you put it on your green tray and make your way to the register. 

Nick Tziavas is probably the last person you’ll interact with during your lunchtime odyssey. He’ll ask if you want anything to drink—coffee, soda, water, tea—and he’ll give it to you in an opaque pebbled tumbler, red, the kind you only see at a restaurant. You’ll find a booth that fits your preference and mood: by the window, closer to the kitchen, by the line, by the mural. You’ll carry your abundance there, sit down with your sandwich and fries and single pickle. The low winter sunlight streams in through the window, casting a sharp angular shadow on your adjacent wall. You take in the warmth from all around you, and take a bite. That was my experience, anyways.

There was a brief feeling, somewhere after the last bite of the first half of the Reuben, where Every Breath You Take by The Police was playing, and I felt excited for the future. It wasn’t the foreboding, COVID-abundant winter, or the special, Dustin Hoffman-type terror of graduation. I had the other half of the Reuben and my pickle to finish, and I felt genuinely happy about the small joys that were yet to come. 

I was able to abstract this feeling into my whole life on the walk back. With the synth-fueled optimism of Rick Springfield and Laura Branigan coursing through my veins alongside the Thousand Island dressing, I felt energized for the trials ahead.

The Jim’s Deli experience is a beloved one because it’s the feeling of a pat on the back. It’s the feeling of reward after a tribulation passed, and the feeling of invigoration that comes from reaching a view on your journey upwards. 

Jim and Nick are restaurateurs indebted to the era in which they began, an era home to much of the over-the-top optimism that we need nowadays. Some may call it kitsch, some may even call it camp; I’ll call it the feeling of doing 80 in your red Chevy Camaro, not a care in the world, on the road towards your uncertainly happy future, Eddie Money blasting carelessly on the radio.

Cover photo courtesy of Yelp.

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Farm Fresh is No Fad

On Friday afternoons, a line is seen wrapping around Corcoran Commons, sometimes even touching the entrance of Robsham Theater. It’s not the lunch rush or an insanely large cluster of people waiting for their coffee GET orders—it’s the first wave of customers waiting for BC’s very own farmers market. As COVID-19 restrictions limit dining hall options, more and more people are turning to cooking in their kitchens, whether it’s on or off campus. Some underclassmen have even taken the plunge to get hot plates (don’t tell Res Life) as a way to supplement their cooking. The question many are asking themselves is, “What do I cook?” but the real question is, “What and where should I be buying things to cook?” They don’t have to look much further than Lower Campus.

image courtesy of The Heights

The BC Farmers Market has now blossomed into a vital part of the food landscape of Boston College and local farming communities. What started in 2009 as selling a couple of apples has flourished into “more than just a fruit stand; to selling cheeses from Vermont Creamery to fresh loaves of bread from Pain D’Avignon, and baked pies and fruit loaves from BC Bakery. We are much more than fruit and produce,” according to Natalie Sill, CSOM ’23, BC Dining’s Sustainability Intern. Along with selling fresh produce and baked goods, the market promotes food education and the importance of having a seasonal diet for the local economy and farms.

While Boston and the surrounding towns have amazing farmer’s markets, BC’s has the luxury of being right on campus and bringing local food close to the students who don’t want to leave Chestnut Hill. “The Farmers Market on campus is for educational experiences such as placing the veggies together by the farm, like Ward’s Farm in Sharon. You know it’s coming from right down the road. As BC students also working there, we foster an open conversation on diversifying diets and food culture. The point of it is to educate students and get them to try different things,” says Sill. 

image courtesy of the Henry P. Kendall Foundation

There are no berries in the later fall and winter months because berries aren’t local to the New England climate, which is why there are so many different types of squashes and gourds on the stands and winter root vegetables. Not only does eating seasonally incorporate different items into a diet, it also helps reduce the carbon footprint associated with food transportation. By supporting local farms such as Czajkowski Farm and Ward’s Berry Farm, the market is supporting local farmers and charging more than the average corporate supermarket price. “A lot of the farms that we work with are multi-generational farms. They are worker-owned farms and have equal equity and use regenerative farming. Aurora Mills uses a stone mill that preserves nutrients. The entire supply chain is ethical. From workers to packaging, everything is fair,” says Sill.  

By supporting local farming instead of buying out of season commercialized farming, it also cuts down on the amount of food waste that is generated per year. Local farms have been hurting more and more trying to compete with commercial farms for a fair share of the food market. As American consumption climbs, the conversation needs to be shifted to buying smart instead of buying it all. Farmers markets are the perfect place to do this while trying out new things and not wasting any produce. Most markets are the farmers selling straight to the consumer, but the BC Farmer’s Market replicates this by placing all of the products from one farm together so that the consumer knows where their food is coming from. 

As the weather begins to turn and Governor Baker’s new COVID-19 rules for the Commonwealth went into effect last Friday, the world is getting ready to hibernate again for winter. Cooking brought back comfort and a sense of security during the first wave, and it will again when the second wave hits. It is going to be too cold for outdoor markets soon, so the BC Farmer’s Market is planning on doing another CSA (community supported agriculture) farm share box in February and March to continue supporting local farmers. 

The market, which has been extended to be open until Thanksgiving break, is open on Friday afternoons from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Shopping smart and eating local has never mattered more than at this moment. 

Cover photo courtesy of Small Moves Vancouver

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A Growing Dependence: Diners and Servers

Restaurants have opened, steadily increasing their indoor capacity. Simultaneously, consumers have decreased their to-go orders, choosing to dine-in more and more. What sort of relationship has been created between diners and servers? And what does this mean for restaurants as winter approaches?

As you make your way down Newbury Street, there is a growing crowd. In April, the sidewalks were empty as stores and restaurants had virtually no customers. Today, there is more and more foot traffic. You see the usual holiday decorations, as twinkling lights begin to twirl up the trees which have slowly lost their colored leaves. They are joined by orange roadblocks and furnaces that surround a smattering of metal chairs and small tables. You squeeze by the lines of people waiting to be seated and dodge servers bringing out food. The street feels more crowded than it should, and with this comes a daunting sense of normalcy. 

Photo courtesy of The Boston Herald

This sense of normalcy has led to an increase in the amount of people choosing to dine-in, rather than carry out. As quarantine fatigue continues to uptick, more and more people are spending time outside, before the reality of winter settles in and keeps people in. The transition through Phases III and IV of the Massachusetts plan has facilitated this. Following the decline in the COVID-19 positivity rate, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker loosened restrictions across the state. An executive order was signed not only to increase the restaurant reservation group number to ten people, but it also extended the time frame for outdoor dining. Additional financial assistance has provided relief for restaurants in an attempt to keep them open. Boston’s Reopening fund plan offers grants to businesses, covering the costs of equipment to stay open throughout the winter. These policies and efforts have allowed individuals to step outside more, using restaurants as a break from the indoors. But how does this impact servers, restaurant workers, and restaurants themselves?

Photo courtesy of Morgan Stanley

As restrictions have loosened, Boston has seen an increase in COVID-19 cases, raising concerns for restaurants who fear joining the 20% that have already closed during the pandemic. In anticipation of a second spike, there is a greater concern of what the winter will look like. 

Restaurants can no longer depend on their own protocols to ensure their safety and the safety of the community. They must work together with customers, encouraging a mutual of responsibility to uphold safe COVID-19 practices. Restaurants and their workers have faced the pressures of a shift in responsibility. Not only do they continue to offer food & drinks and practice strong customer service skills, they must now shift their logistics work to account for COVID-19 guidelines. Restaurant workers must be trained in these guidelines and protocols, essentially becoming “public health guardians,” as noted by a New York Times Article

Photo courtesy of The Boston Globe

The heightened responsibility and clear dependency in the diner and restaurant worker dynamic has brought mixed-feelings. Some servers have felt the added stress in the riskiness of their tasks. Others understand the significance of this new role. Lucas Gatz, MCAS ‘23, notes that customer interactions while working as a Boston College Dining employee “makes a shift worthwhile.” Noting that some people only leave their dorm to eat, he wants to make the dining experience as normal as possible. Yet he, like many others, longs to return to a time where interactions between servers and diners were light-hearted. Working at The Circle Pizza, Scottie Crockett, MCAS ‘23, has felt the effects of this added pressure of responsibility. During the pandemic, the restaurant itself lost its identity as a bar scene for Boston College students. Now, Scottie notes that, while students have followed restaurant protocols for the most part, the potential of unsafe practices affecting The Circle Pizza has “added an unnecessary amount of stress on us servers and our bosses.”

So what does all of this mean? There is a growing dependence. Restaurant goers also rely on restaurants to stay open throughout the winter holiday season to ease the fatigue of quarantine, especially as Massachusetts guidelines and restrictions remain. To do so however, restaurants rely on their customers to follow these guidelines, keeping the restaurant afloat and their workers safe and employed. This means people should continue to support local businesses, rather than using COVID-19 as an excuse to avoid dining altogether. When you dine-in, take a second to recognize the role you play. If you do so, while also following restaurant and COVID-19 practices, this strongly intertwined dynamic can protect the restaurant industry with the hopes of normalcy in the future.

Cover photo courtesy of Los Angeles Times

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An Apple and An Apple Cider Donut a Day

As the leaves change from green to orange to red, and as safety and social distancing stay at the forefront of our thoughts, Bostonians look for appropriate fun, festive, fall activities. Some turn to pumpkin picking, pumpkin carving, and pumpkin spice lattes; some turn to hiking. However, for many, apple picking and all of the aesthetics associated with it will always hold a special place in their hearts.

The pandemic put a lot of pressure on agriculture as purchasing patterns changed, with people purchasing food with a longer shelf life, and corporations, like restaurants, purchasing less food. While many farms have been hurt, some small farms have actually been experiencing an increase in demand this fall. It seems as if the farms that fared better were the small farms that catered to the few, producing an abundance of crops, instead of the factory farms that catered to the masses, producing a single, solitary crop. It seems the farms that fared better were those that were more accessible to their communities.

The pandemic also put a lot of pressure on agrotourism, as people stayed home and stayed away from planning gigantic gatherings, like weddings. Pick-your-own-fruit/vegetable patches have been experiencing an increase in demand, or at least a different kind of demand, this fall. It appears pick-your-own patches are flourishing despite being limited in their accommodation of substantial events and sizable groups and gatherings. The big, busy days full of corporate and student trips have been replaced with days full of required small-group reservations. The local customers have been joined with more out-of-town customers. The lines are longer, even if only to allow for more space, and masks are abundant. Pick-your-own patches have proven to have all of the proper precautions in place for a perfect day.

Photo courtesy of RCAP Solutions

Honey Pot Hill Orchards is notorious for its popular pick-your-own patch. It is a fourth generation family farm in Stow, Mass, easily accessed from the four neighboring towns. It is located past numerous twists and turns through the beautiful New England fall foliage. At arrival, the farm animals welcome the wondrous visitors with a “baa” and an “oink oink.” The farm is extremely expansive, sitting with its store above rows upon rows of trees and ladders. The farm even has a hayride that can be taken to travel to the apples. A couple of conversations with two of Honey Pot Hill’s “apple ambassadors,” situated along the apple picking trail, revealed that the 200 acre orchard boasts of over 10,000 apple trees, with over 10 apple types, ranging from Gravensteins to Ginger Golds. It also revealed how Honey Pot Hill has adapted to the pandemic: with hand-washing and hand-sanitizing stations, social distancing standards, and more.

Honey Pot Hill is as bright and bubbly as ever. The orchard offers all of the apple necessities, like apple cider, apple cider donuts, and caramel apples, along with hayrides, hedge mazes, and more. “There’s something there for everyone,” said Peyton Wilson, MCAS ‘22, in a recent interview. “There’s no entry fee, and there’s lots of free, fun activities!” The orchard offers a true taste of autumn. Honey Pot Hill Orchards, as well as other orchards, provide a great way for Bostonians to get their apple a day, even if it is in the form of an apple cider donut.

Photo courtesy of Taste of Home

The pandemic has certainly put a lot of pressure on agriculture, and even on agrotourism. With limited indoor activities, apple picking is an outdoor activity that can provide a sense of safety, coupled with some adventure, for everyone.

Cover photo courtesy of The Boston Globe

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Finding Family in Family Units

From March to August, a large majority of Boston College students grudgingly traded late night at Lower for early mornings in Mom and Dad’s kitchen. But despite the isolation from college friends, the extra time inspired many to learn new cooking skills and recipes that they could carry back to BC. And what good is a new homemade bread recipe with nobody to try it? Since parties are no more, many college students have repurposed their beer pong tables into dining tables. Hence the revival of the dinner party as a way to bond with what few friends they are legally allowed to host. This is the first year that BC has experienced such a surge in Instagram content featuring charcuterie boards and homemade mimosas. Quarantine produced a cherished desire for closeness and family, which reflects itself in many forms on our college campus.

One Rubenstein six-man has taken the beloved Italian tradition of pasta nights and turned them into a weekly celebration of friendship. Ben Errichetti MCAS ‘21 was one of the roommates who spearheaded the efforts. “After a summer of apartness and staying in the home and isolation, my good buddy Jeremy and I were like, ‘You know what we should do? We should bring a little warmth into our dorms, and every Sunday we can invite people over and have a nice meal.’ And instead of just inviting people over to eat we can make it a real familial type thing, which is why we invested in a tablecloth to go that small extra mile.” 

This idea of the “extra mile” began with a bright red tablecloth (to hide inevitable sauce stains) and a candle centerpiece, but they did not stop there. With each week came a different dish, side, and theme. According to Errichetti, it began as a way to celebrate and reflect on his and some of his roommates’ Italian roots. The first several main dishes included shrimp scampi, carbonara, and chicken parmesan. From there, they began to expand into more themed occasions, such as sausages and Bavarian pretzels in honor of Oktoberfest and pork chops with applesauce for the beginning of fall. Jeremy Harris MCAS ‘21, another one of the roommates explained how his upbringing influences his ideas for the Sunday Gravy meals.

“A big part of my childhood was getting the extended family together for holidays like Easter and Thanksgiving. When I was young I looked forward to these events because the food was always so unique and delicious. Being around my family for an extended period of time over quarantine made me realize that the delicious food was there to emphasize the importance of family bonding, not just eating rich food. I wanted to make Sunday Gravy a staple in college because food is what brings us together, and the people that we care about is what we stay for.”

For other family units, the food itself is not the centerpiece of the gathering, but it remains an essential component nonetheless. Mary Stenerson CSOM ‘21 explains how her roommates in 2150 have been trying out new recipes to complement their themed nights, which typically revolve around a movie or board game. “We’ve done a fair amount of movie nights where we make a lot of movie-themed food and drinks and some of us will even dress up as characters from the movie. We’ve had some nights where we just play games and make food altogether. I like finding foods I think my roommates will enjoy and making it for us to share.”

One of these particular nights consisted of a Twilight movie marathon, featuring blood-red velvet cupcakes, garlic bread, and their patented “werewolves in a blanket.” Naturally, a vampire-themed spread wouldn’t be complete without homemade red sangria. Another story that Stenerson recounts involved an apple-themed baking spree resulting from the prior week’s apple picking trip. “I made apple crisp, I made apple puff pastry cups, and I made apple cake. And even after that we still have a giant thing of apples on the table!”

When asked what they personally get out of these family unit experiences, a few keywords consistently jumped out: providing, thanking, and bonding. It’s strangely beautiful to see roommates who are usually no more than a year apart in age take on the roles of provider and beneficiary in these family scenarios. Everyone who gets to eat the food is grateful and in return contributes to the jovial atmosphere. But the people preparing the food, like Stenerson, find their own satisfaction from not just the meal, but the process of preparation.

“What do I personally get out of the experience? I think I view it as a way to give back to everyone. To say thank you for being such amazing roommates, here’s a little gift. And it’s also fun because I enjoy baking, so it’s a way I can make other people happy while still having fun myself.”

Cover photo courtesy of Marcelo Kenne Vicente

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Features

A Thank You Letter to Cooking

Dear cooking, 

We’re going into yet another month of COVID-19 restrictions and this “new normal.” We grab our masks before our keys, and we douse our hands in Germ-X. We’re facing greater fatigue, stress, and uncertainty than ever before. Thankfully, we have you as a much needed outlet. In fact, you have become something to look forward to for many. The prime of quarantine this summer brought with it new skills, shared recipes, and way too many hours of the Food Network Channel (at least on my part). While these trends were used to fill the endless hours of the time spent indoors, the results of them remain important to many, even as social interaction increases. From providing a much needed break to creating conversation topics, you have done much to deserve a thank you. 

Photo courtesy of our Spring 2019 Issue

In a recent food study by Hunter, 54% of respondents reported that they are using you more than they did prior to the pandemic. In the same study, it was noted that over 40% of the respondents enjoy you now more than ever. It took a pandemic for individuals to realize their potential in mastering one of life’s most basic skills, you. Nearly everyone is making an effort, amounting to a “tremendous public health opportunity” noted Hans Taparia. Not only do you provide immediate gratification and opportunities for increased physical health, but you also act as an asset for improved mental health.

Photo courtesy of our Spring 2019 Issue

This surge in your use has not simply been to fill time, but it has acted as a productive and mindful outlet. So much remains out of our control. Except for you. You’ve taken on a role beyond functionality. You have allowed so many people to channel their uncertainties and anxieties. Rather than sitting in front of a screen mindlessly for another hour, people have turned you into a creative and entertaining activity. Our kitchens have turned into a competitive stage as our friends, kids, and siblings grab a random assortment of ingredients from the pantry and create dishes from Pinterest recipes we’ve been collecting for years. You’ve given all of us the opportunity to feel like all-star chefs. All of this is in hopes to take a break from the stressors of COVID-19.

You give us a feeling of normalcy. You distract us from the sobering reality that lessened restrictions does not mean there is an end in sight. Unfortunately, this is an especially hard truth for college students, who face a demanding workload along with the other anxieties, frustrations, and fears caused by the pandemic. With all of this, you have been notably mentioned for your impact. “I am especially grateful because cooking instills some kind of normalcy amidst such a chaotic time,” said Kayleen Italia, CSON ‘22. In Kayleen’s reality, like many others, you remain enjoyable amidst the global backdrop filled with fears. 

With no resolution in the foreseeable future, you remain a constant source of entertainment, enjoyment, and certainty. If you have no idea what you have been able to do for us, just take a look here, and you’ll see what we’ve accomplished. Whether it be cheffing up brunch with a group of friends on what would be a football game day or making dinner for one after a stressful round of back-to-back Zoom meetings, we can always count on you.

Needless to say, thank you.

Sincerely,

All of us at home

Categories
Features

The Foretold Future of Farming

How often do you wonder where your food comes from? This question is rarely at the forefront of our minds simply because it doesn’t have to be. As a population that shops primarily at local supermarkets, we largely consume food that travels from monocrops across the country and the world. But the environment is changing quickly, and agricultural practices will be forced, for better or worse, to change alongside it. 

In the United States alone, farming utilizes approximately 922 million acres of land. While small, family-owned farms account for a portion of this land, they are being crowded out by larger operations at alarming rates. Larger operations and the growth of a single crop on the same land year after year, or monocropping, bring higher yields and increased efficiency in both planting and harvesting. This contributes to the lower prices and a seemingly unlimited supply found in supermarkets, but it comes at a great environmental and social cost.

“In the rush to industrialize farming, we’ve lost the understanding, implicit since the beginning of agriculture, that food is a process, a web of relationships, not an individual ingredient or commodity,” wrote chef and activist Dan Barber in his book The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food. Large-scale monoculture farming eliminates mutualistic relationships necessary to the health of a plant and the environment that supports it. Soil depletion, a lack of resilience in the face of environmental extremes, decreased plant diversity, and a loss of livelihood all come as a result of our “rush to industrialize farming.” However, the cohort of small, family-owned farms across the country and right here in Boston are voices of reason. In the midst of a culture that can’t or won’t recognize the realities of the future of agriculture, their opinions stand out.

Between Philadelphia suburbs and New Jersey beach towns lies Sorbello Girls Farm Market, a family-owned farm and farm stand selling their produce and local products since 1961. “The main crops that we grow are some of the local crops that farmers in the area grow which are tomatoes, eggplant, bell peppers, we do a lot of basil, a lot of aromatics,” said Billy Conners, MCAS ‘21, in a recent interview. 

Image courtesy of @bullockgarden on Instagram

Reflecting on the future of his family’s farm, Conners stated, “Personally, our farm won’t exist in ten years, but I think that’s a trend you’re seeing everywhere. There’s no real competition because we can’t afford to compete with these bigger farms.” There is no longer an economic incentive to farm on a small scale, leaving farmers with no choice but to give up their livelihood and leave a gap within our agricultural system. 

Small farms, in contrast to larger farms that rely on monoculture, are working towards changing the future of agriculture. By emphasizing its commitment to soil fertility and growth without pesticides, Allandale Farm in Brookline, MA appeals to and draws its support from a growing population of agriculturally- and environmentally-conscious consumers. “Our growing practices are deeply linked to our role as land stewards and neighbors,” writes Allandale farm about their greater purpose. The commitment to the land and consumers from farms such as Allandale offers hope for the continuation of small farms that prioritize plant diversity and soil health. 

Image courtesy of Boston Magazine

As a consumer, there is a great deal of power that comes with deciding where to spend your money. But with this power comes an obligation to support those who are fighting for a sustainable future. “Shop local,” Conners urged. “Produce is going to look a lot different in the future and in order to ensure that a lot of people have a livelihood and your produce stays local, you have to shop local. That’s the only solution.”