If you find yourself a bit tired of the Italian and Asian fare that covers our Boston culinary landscape, I suggest venturing to Brookline and Newton to discover a wonderful, hidden, culinary scene: the Russian food community. I discovered these hidden gems thanks to the recommendations of my Russian professor during my freshman year at Boston College. This past weekend, I had the chance to surprise my mother with a Russian food tour during her visit to Boston. I knew it would be a special surprise because she had a connection to Russian culture growing up; she had Russian family members, and her father worked in St. Petersburg, returning to her with treats and recipes to prepare at home.
Our first stop was the lovely Bazaar on Beacon Street in Brookline. With Cyrillic signs and Russian speakers all around, it feels as though you have stepped into another little world. I could browse there for hours. They offer homemade dishes abounding, including cucumber salad, red cabbage salad, and paté. They have a wide selection of fresh seafood, as well as meats, cheese, fruits, and vegetables.
My mom was delighted to find one of her favorite beers from years ago, the long-lost Pilsner Urquell, among their internationally assorted wine, beer, and vodka section. My favorite area of the store is found in the back, displaying Russian cookies of all flavors and beautiful jars of fruit preserves. My mother was only sad she didn’t bring an extra suitcase to take half of the store back home to Florida. The next time you need to go grocery shopping, consider skipping standard supermarkets and head to this brilliant shop full of surprises.
Our next stop on the tour was in Newton, for lunch at Café St. Petersburg. This is a cozy, colorfully decorated spot that makes one feel as though they are at grandma’s house––which we all know is where the best cuisine comes to life. A grand piano sits in the center of the restaurant for live music performances during dinner. The café boasts an elaborate menu full of traditional soups, salads, duck, steak, chicken, lamb, and seafood, with potato- and cabbage-based entrees for vegetarian guests.
We began our lunch with the delicious St. Petersburg salad, composed of chicken, potatoes, carrots, eggs, pickles, cucumbers, and mayonnaise. I would return for that salad alone. The traditional and vibrantly colored borscht followed; a meat soup with beets, cabbage, and potatoes. This was accompanied by a pirozhok (meat pastry) and sour cream––the perfect comfort food for a cold Boston afternoon. We continued our feast with beef stroganoff (sautéed beef with cream and spices) and chicken tabaka (fried hen with garlic sauce). On the side were buttery, fried potatoes, and we ended with sweet, cherry-filled blinis.
My mom was elated, and I left planning my next visit to Café St. Petersburg. I encourage anyone looking for a change to discover these tasty, charming spots for themselves!
I never used to like eating alone in public. It made me self-conscious and uncomfortable. I was embarrassed that I didn’t have anyone to eat with. In many ways, dining out felt as though it was more about social interaction than the food itself. I think my fear came from those cliché high school movies where the new student sits alone at lunch and all the mean kids make fun of him.
In my freshman year at Boston College, I never sat down to a meal at Mac if I didn’t have someone to sit with. Instead, I would walk timidly through the dining hall, grab food, and make my way back to Upper campus so I could eat in my dorm room. My food was usually cold by the time I returned, but it was better than the thought of sitting by myself.
This phobia lasted many years, but all it took was one meal to change my outlook on dining solo. I was in Hong Kong with my mum at the time, and she left me to explore the city while she caught up with friends. That afternoon, I found myself wandering the streets of Hong Kong’s trendy fashion district, Causeway Bay. After indulging in some retail therapy, I began to crave a hearty meal to warm me up on that chilly winter afternoon. I initially thought about grabbing something from a café, but then decided to go look for some traditional Cantonese dim sum.
As I walked along the grungy streets of Causeway Bay, I noticed a sizable crowd gathering outside what appeared to be a Japanese restaurant. I followed suit; if people were waiting outside in the cold, the food was bound to be good.
When I got to the front of the line, the hostess asked, “How many?”
I sheepishly replied, “Just for one.”
She nodded, and gestured for me to follow her as she walked through the restaurant. Since the signage was all in Japanese, I had no idea what I was about to eat. But as soon as I walked in, the aroma of pork-steeped ramen broth was unmistakable. To my surprise, however, there were no tables inside the space… only personal booths.
I didn’t know it at the time, but I had stumbled into one of Japan’s most famous ramen chains, Ichiran. Renowned for its rich tonkotsu pork broth and thin handmaid noodles, Ichiran serves some of the best ramen you can find outside of Japan. Rather than having guests gather at tables together, diners sit at individual “flavour concentration booths” to fully appreciate the quality of the soup.
There is very little human interaction once you get to your seat. I was isolated from all other customers, thanks to the dividers placed on either side of me. In front of my chair, a little window covered by a bamboo screen concealed the inside of the kitchen. At Ichiran, there is no menu. Instead, waiting for me at my booth was an order sheet that let me curate my perfect bowl of ramen. Firm noodles, extra spicy, with sliced pork, ultra rich broth and a soft boiled egg. I pressed the “service” button and seconds later, the bamboo screen was lifted, and two hands appeared. They retrieved my written order, and then the bamboo partition was lowered.
Just minutes later, the screen rose once more, revealing my steaming bowl of ramen. The broth was opaque and cloudy with the noodles neatly arranged on top. A dollop of fiery red chilli paste sat in the middle of the bowl as mounds of scallions, sliced pork shoulder, and a perfectly runny boiled egg completed the dish.
I grabbed my chopsticks and soup-spoon and began mixing the dish together, fusing the brightly-colored chilli paste into the pale broth. Then I began to build the perfect bite: a bit of broth, a little pork, a few noodles, and a chunk of egg. It was pure magic. The soup was silky with just the right amount of spice. The noodles were perfectly al dente with the right amount of chew. The pork was tender and the egg was perfectly cooked. I had never tasted ramen like this before. It was the perfect bowl.
Before I knew it, I had eaten all the noodles and barely made a dent in the broth. Luckily, at Ichiran you can order more of anything as you go. I filled out another order sheet, requesting more noodles, and a second egg. I pressed the “service” button and had a new bowl of noodles and an egg at my table in a matter of seconds.
Prior to dining at Ichiran, I had never seen the bottom of a ramen bowl. I could never finish my servings because they were always too rich or filling. But the ramen there is perfectly balanced, and for the first time, I reached the bowl’s ceramic floor. I even debated ordering another round, but decided on the green tea ice cream for dessert instead.
Throughout my entire dining experience at Ichiran, I never felt uncomfortable or embarrassed. The anti-social dining concept took away the shame I felt from eating alone. With self-pity removed, I was able to focus my attention entirely toward what I was eating, as opposed to wondering what other people were thinking of me. By eliminating all social interaction, there were no distractions when I sat down for my meal. The only focus was the bowl in front of me. I tasted flavours I wouldn’t normally notice, and appreciated the quality of the ingredients. Throughout the meal I refrained from using my phone, just so I could sit with my thoughts and reflect.
Although the social aspect of dining out is still what appeals to me most, my experience at Ichiran allowed me to embrace the idea of eating out alone. I realized I shouldn’t be concerned with how other people regard me in this setting. I now have no issue sitting alone on campus and eating lunch. I almost think of it as a meditative experience. I put in my headphones, listen to music, and enjoy my meal. It helps me clear my mind and reset for the day ahead.
Fall in New Hampshire is a magical thing. It transforms the landscape to its greatest form as the leaves transition from green to gold, burgundy, and sunset orange. This year, my roommates and I planned a fall break trip to Lake Winnipesaukee, to stay at our friend’s cozy lakeside vacation home located in central New Hampshire. As we left Boston and its sea of industrial skyscrapers, the highway roads became flanked with tall trees and the wilderness marked our passage from the hustle and bustle of the city to the relaxed nature of lake living. The scenery was picturesque; the sun glinted off of the lake, the leaves rustled and fell around us, and the sight of stars and sounds of nature were almost startling after living next to the city for so long. We celebrated our first night with a dinner of cheese, crackers, and wine, and afterward roasted marshmallows in the wood-burning fireplace. Storybooks were never so close to coming to life as they were during our weekend away.
Planning many little excursions, we got to shop in homegrown country stores, give ourselves heart attacks in a haunted corn maze, trek up a mountain to capture the perfect viewpoint of the lake, and end the trip with a group dinner at a restaurant called Camp. Nestled beside a candy store and small flowing waterfall, Camp fit right into the New Hampshire ambiance.
The restaurant was themed to reflect classic summer camp, right down to the menu items and comfort foods, and it did not disappoint. We came equipped for the log cabin vibe and dressed mostly in oversized warm sweaters, ready to cover up the inevitable food babies that we were determined to leave with. Inside, the restaurant was reminiscent of a lodge. There were long wooden tables with names carved into them, red gingham curtains, wood-panelled walls, and a few stuffed animal heads which we avoided eye contact with as we ate our meal. It was warm, rustic, and loud with chattering patrons and happy diners.
This was a celebratory event, bringing our girls’ trip to an end, so we splurged on drinks and appetizers. Our eyes lit up upon spotting the cheese-and-gravy fries, and the “Camp Crackers,” which consisted of a sliced cheesy flatbread with garlic and scallions–simple choices, but covered in enough cheese to satisfy everyone. The fries were served in a hot skillet; they were extra crispy but softened upon contact with the thick chicken gravy and melted cheese sauce. The crackers were salty and gooey, topped with a mixture of gorgonzola and cheddar cheese which worked quite well when dipped in the remnants of the fries’ gravy. The most memorable themed drinks consisted of a Honey Bourbon cocktail, a Boozy Hot Chocolate, and a Dirty Shirley Temple… all of which equally satisfied our childhood nostalgia and recently-turned-21 needs. After we collectively drained these, our waiter surprised us with homemade biscuits and whipped butter for the table. Of course we had no other option but to consume those as well. It was truly a glorious feast–and our main dishes were yet to arrive.
The ordering process took some time due to the multitude of delicious choices; the menu was so perfectly crafted that it felt cruel to make us decide. Highlights from our final selection included the lobster mac and cheese, tempura chicken BBQ sandwich, veggie burger with curry aioli and pineapple salsa, bourbon-marinated steak tips, clam chowder, and falafel on naan bread. As our meals came out from the oven, we realized what a daunting task we laid out for ourselves; our stomachs whimpered in protest but we forged on. Uttering groans of dissent (which we silenced with more mouthfuls of food),we stuffed ourselves to fullest capacity on the piping hot and seemingly home-cooked meals. Everything was buttery, savory, and balanced, but certainly indulgent. My clam chowder was fresh and homemade, creamy and well-seasoned but not too thick. The biscuits were the perfect companion to the soup, allowing me to soak up every drop of the New England specialty. However, our night of eating still wasn’t complete. In celebration of our friend’s 22nd birthday, we received a complimentary order of Fireside S’mores. Held in a hot pan, the dessert was more of a dip, with a melted chocolate layer on the bottom and a toasted marshmallow layer on top. Strips of graham crackers were used to scoop it up. Full enough to burst, we knew by the end that we had made the very most of our camping trip.
As assignment due dates grow closer and Uber prices continue to rise, I find myself less and less inclined to trek to the grocery store and continue to buy fresh foods. With the arrival of the autumnal season, cozy, warm meals become so enticing–as long as I don’t have to spend the time and money to consume them. Repeatedly, and embarrassingly, I find myself making ramen packets because of how cheap, easy, and delicious they are. As a beginner, I gravitated towards the chicken-flavored, Maruchan-brand ramen. This version is classic, an oily soup with a light poultry taste. I soon grew tired of the monotony of what was basically a salted noodle soup, though, and began to test out the spicier ramen packets in the international food aisle.
As a rule of thumb, the best ramen packets are generally those with Asian lettering, as they often have a deeper flavor profile with more authentic soup bases and spice mixes. I am personally fond of the flavors which require you to drink two glasses of milk while eating them, so as not to burn your taste buds off. Most grocery chains carry the Shin Ramyun brand, which includes both a soup base and multiple spice packets to create a fuller, more complex broth for the ramen noodles. Liquid flavoring works to thicken the soup and gives it a strong beef taste, which complements the chewy ramen noodles by coating them in umami-goodness while they cook. The dry flavor packet is composed of spices and dehydrated green onion, mushroom, and carrot, which round out the soup with subtleties to cut through the beef. Vegetables add both flavor and a slight texture to each mouthful of noodles. The level of spice produced by using the entirety of the liquid packet and the spice packet together is not for the faint of heart, but it is easy to adjust to a less volcanic burst of flavor by portioning the packets as desired and not adding them all at once.
Elevating the ramen experience by purchasing higher quality brands is one step towards ramen transcendence, but there are many other little tricks to crafting a dinner-worthy ramen noodle soup. The polished, Kylie Jenner-route would be to add butter, garlic powder, and a scrambled egg–but we can do better than that. I believe garlic is an herb passed down by cosmic entities to grace the food of humanity, so I’ll give Kylie that one. Rather than adding butter and a scrambled egg, though, I would suggest a form of egg that has a runny yolk, perhaps soft-boiled or sunny-side-up. The yolk of the egg thickens the soup, makes it creamier, and flavors the ramen noodles, while the white of the egg adds texture and protein so that you can pretend it is a nutritious meal. Other protein sources like tofu or pork are traditionally put in Japanese ramen, and work very well with noodles and broth. Adding soup-friendly fresh or frozen veggies like mushrooms, white onions, green onions, or jalapenos can add more of a bite to your soup and make it a well-balanced meal (though, is health what ramen is really about?). Flavoring the soup with bonus spices like hot chili oil or chili flakes, garlic powder, onion powder, curry powder, cumin, soy sauce, oyster sauce, sriracha, or even a dash of maple syrup can help cater to individual flavor preference.
I am a firm believer in eliminating ramen shame, and I encourage anyone looking for a quick, hot, and inexpensive meal during the colder months to explore this college-friendly food. Little adjustments can make ramen more substantial, and the soup is a great base for adding in meat, veggies, and spices, according to taste. To my fellow Maruchan-beginners: you can do better!
Photo: New York Times, Slow Cooker Chicken Ramen with Bok Choy and Miso
I looked down at my phone, then back up. Over and over I played the steps through my head. I had one chance, and I couldn’t mess this up. Otherwise, $14 were down the drain, and two dinners. To a college student on a budget, this was gold.
Besides the monetary value, there was something more. I wanted to succeed. I wanted to bite into that first ball of tender, slightly crisp goodness, and feel it melt in my mouth. The way that they do when you buy them at a restaurant for $30, and you savor every bite of the four pieces on the plate. My roommates had to cook their dinners, too, and I had a meeting to attend. I knew it was time to start the scallops.
I got the sauce ready ahead of time. I chopped up a few garlic cloves, poured a couple tablespoons of olive oil, and squeezed a full lemon into a bowl (then proceeded to dip my hand in it to pick out the seeds). Of course I had a cut on my finger where the lemon juice stung–but warriors don’t cry. I put the mixture aside, and continued with my mission.
I washed the scallops and patted them dry. I peeled off the little white flaps on their sides. Then, I said goodbye to the squishy, white, saltwater clams before me, and turned up the heat. To the pan, I added a couple more tablespoons of olive oil. I waited, and placed a droplet of water on its surface. The oil jumped a bit, so I put the scallops on. It was crowded, much like Disney World during spring break. In a panic, I picked up a scallop with my finger seconds after it hit the pan, and moved it to a plate. There was more room, but it was still too crowded. I followed this pattern two more times, all in a matter of seconds.
“Salt and pepper!” The part of my mind responsible for remembering the steps was panicked.
I almost forgot. Frantically, I ground up the two simple spices which make all the difference. Phew. I caught my breath while the scallops sizzled on the pan; the three I temporarily saved from the flame were watching idly by. They wouldn’t be safe for very long.
How was I supposed to know when scallops were ready to flip? Different Internet sources said anywhere from one to four minutes, or when the scallops didn’t stick to the pan. I waited until the bottoms were a light golden brown. Using a spatula, I poked at the creatures a few times, testing their mobility. I finally felt one move smoothly across the pan. I didn’t watch the clock, but trusted my instincts. I flipped them all. Waiting another several minutes, I finished cooking the batch and moved them to a deep plate. I poured some more oil on the pan, and added the remaining three squishy whites.
This round, I didn’t waste any time. I ground salt and pepper like it was my duty. I was getting nervous; it wasn’t over. I still had the lemon garlic sauce. I was to remove the scallops, and pour my mixture over the flame while scraping up any remaining pieces in the pan. Then I was to add a quarter-cup of vegetable broth (I wasn’t going to use white wine; I’m a student and that’s a highly valued commodity), then let the mixture simmer.
I looked down. The three remaining scallops on the pan were nearly ready. It was time. Suddenly my ears were ringing.
“You should always turn the fan on while cooking! Open the window! Shake a towel under the alarm!” My roommate was yelling.
This would happen to me.
Little did my roommate know there was no way in hell I was going to abandon my scallops in attempt to make the fire alarm turn off. I had already come so far.
“One second!” I shouted back.
I removed the remaining scallops from the pan, opened the window, poured in my concoction, and turned the fan on. Still, there was beeping chaos. I added the vegetable broth and moved the dial to simmer. Then, grabbing the dirty blue dish towel next to me, I ran to the alarm, and started waving my hand around. After what felt like an hour–in reality it was actually fifteen seconds–the alarm stopped. I darted back to my pan.
I was ready for this process to be over. I turned off the flame and combined the scallops with the pan’s contents. I tossed them around so they could soak up the garlicy, lemony, oily goodness. I placed the farrow and sauteed spinach (which I’d been simultaneously preparing) in a bowl, topping them with the scallops and lemon sauce so that the hulled wheat and veggies could soak up the flavor as well. I pierced my fork into a scallop.
The scallops may have been evil for the trouble they put me through, but at that moment I didn’t care. I didn’t care that I was late for my meeting, or that my roommates were annoyed with me. A tired smile took over my face; it was delicious. I even had my roommate (a fellow foodie) try a bite. She didn’t mind the alarm after that.
“Wow, this is better than scallops I’ve had in restaurants where you get three for thirty bucks.” Then I started beaming, because I didn’t have just three restaurant-level scallops. I had eleven. I planned to separate them into two meals, only putting five on my plate for dinner. Instead, I ate seven scallops, and after my meeting (for which I ran late) I came home and ate the remaining four. I couldn’t get them out of my mind. Slightly crispy on the outside, and tender, buttery goodness on the inside. I was rich.
How a BC alum created a new kind of cider for a new kind of world
Jake Mazar’s favorite apple is the Roxbury Russet. It’s a greyish, greenish apple, with a leathery skin. You’d expect it to be sour, but it’s sweet. Not an artificially engineered kind of sweet that Dole and Driscoll’s may dream of, but instead a soft, weathered sweetness. Another admirer of the Roxbury Russet is Nathaniel Hawthorne, who, in The House of the Seven Gables wrote, “But I suppose I am like a Roxbury Russet, – a great deal the better, the longer I can be kept.” Nathaniel Hawthorne was definitely a cider drinker.
Jake Mazar, CSOM ’08, decided to start a cidery after growing disillusioned with work in the consulting field. Together with childhood friend (and current Head Cider-maker) Soham Bhatt, who had been working in the biotech industry, he started Artifact Cider. “Something was lacking, and I wanted to do something on my own terms…we had a keen love of cider, something we’d been drinking for a long time, talking about for a long time. Soham started making some at his house in his garage, one thing led to another and slowly we decided to open up a company… and it’s kind of taken off from there.”
It begins, Mazar explains, with locally sourced apples. Once the blend is chosen and the apples are picked, the process begins to resemble that of wine-making. The fruit is crushed, pressed, and its juices begin to ferment, either with added yeast or with naturally occurring yeasts. It’s fermented for anywhere between a few weeks to a few months, and then aged until it is ready to be carbonated, canned or kegged, and finally consumed.
Given apple picking’s cultural ubiquity, it’s no surprise that cider culture has begun to reemerge in the Northeast. Due in no small part to the craft beer boom, where many have begun to shirk the Anheuser-Busch beverages in favor of locally-produced, small-batch brews, where cider has enjoyed a rebirth in the last ten years. As Mazar puts it,
“We’re interested not only what’s been done before, we’re interested in what can be done, what’s possible. Reinvention.”
And what serves as a better example of staying true to one’s roots while reinventing oneself than an apple itself? The Roxbury Russet has been in the Northeast for close to 400 years now, and it still manages to find new life every time it’s picked off the orchard, fermented for a bottle of cider, or regrown in a Massachusetts orchard.
Artifact’s name lends a bit of poignancy to this sentiment as well. Sure, the likes of John and Sam Adams might have enjoyed a Roxbury Russet some 250 years ago. They might even have had a glass or two of cider from those apples at the local taverns, taking gulps between discussing the merits of liberalism. So while cider, and the distinctly Northeastern apples that it can be made from, all serve as treasures of our past, they also remind us to look towards the future. I don’t think the Adams’ would have minded a blend of apples in their cider.
Although hard cider still makes up a mere 1% of the alcohol industry, the proliferation of cideries around the United States indicates that it’s not a flash in the pan, and has lasting value. Simply put, if cider can last 400 harsh New England winters, one could assume with confidence that it’s here to stay.
Artifact Cider can be found at Chansky’s Super Market and Gimbel’s Liquors.
Considering how much time we spend eating each day, rarely do we ask ourselves: where does our food come from? Who feeds us? These are questions I personally find troubling as a devoted foodie and an environmentalist. We eat with the hope that our food comes from clean, responsible and perhaps even picturesque places, but we really eat blindly, without any evidence that our food got to us in a way that supports our values.
In search of some “evidence,” I endeavored to photograph and learn about some of the food partners of BC Dining, including the kitchens of BC Dining itself. I explored four arenas of the greater food system, visiting two producers (Ward’s Berry Farm and North Coast Seafood), one provider (BC Dining) and one waste handler (Save That Stuff), in order to understand my food better than I did before. At every site, I encountered overwhelmingly passionate people, and was dazzled by the complex and innovative processes behind every meal. I hope these photos empower and inform you in the same way they did me, and that they may satisfy at least a bit of your curiosity of the origin of our food.
Ward’s Berry Farm is located in Sharon, Massachusetts, and supplies Boston College with vibrant produce like squash, peaches, tomatoes, zucchini and pumpkin. The process of it getting from soil to campus begins with picking. Jenna (photo 1a) and Rory (photo 1c) are year-round pickers, but Ward’s also employs several part time workers during the harvesting season, who, as Rory explained, are typically young people who come from as far as Ecuador looking for temporary work. While Rory viewed the picking process fondly — savoring long, sunny days spent outdoors — he also described it as grueling. Pickers go out in almost all weather conditions, including heavy rain and hail. He considered this past season to be unusually rainy, actually over-watering many of the crops.
This picked produce travels to the factory to be washed and packaged (photo 1b). In the factory, two young women wash yellow squash grown at Ward’s in order to send them in a CSA box, which are assembled down the hall. Ward’s does a local farm share with several colleges, providing their “farmer’s choice boxes” to BC Dining’s CSA Program (Community Shared Agriculture). CSA Members get a weekly surprise box of assorted produce grown at Ward’s, often with various squash species, including this yellow one. Every box is like a food puzzle: what dishes can be made so that none of the vegetable is wasted? My suggestion for turnips: bake turnip “fries” with salt and paprika, and sautee the greens (which are even more nutritious than kale) with maple syrup or honey to cut the bitterness.
While post-consumer food waste is an issue commonly tackled through composting programs, farms themselves also generate a significant amount of food waste. Ward’s efficiently feeds their excess produce to a small pen of pigs (photo 1d). The pigs gobble up produce with baffling speed — they finish one squash the size of a liter soda bottle before you can blink.
North Coast Seafoods, a seafood company based in Boston’s Drydock, sources all of BC Dining’s seafood. Andrew Wilkinson, a Seafood Specialist and Chef R&D with North Coast, gave me a tour of the fishing docks and North Coast’s processing facility. Andrew and I got there early enough in the morning to see a fewthat a few North Coast-sponsored fishermen were unloading freshly caught Redfish, a fairly underutilized but still delicious local deep sea species. Because the species is a small to medium sized fish, much of what the fishermen bring in cannot be sold to restaurants as a standard fillet size. Andrew’s creative solution iswas to sort and source the smaller catches to local primary schools for a “fish n’ chips” school lunch. Most primary public schools lack healthful and fresh school lunches, he said, so what better way to make use of local, sustainably caught Redfish than to feed our next generation?
Next, Andrew showed me around the processing facility. I was stunned to witness the complex technology that produces the seafood that we, especially as Bostonians, love so much. Salmon filets travelled through a conveyor belt to remove hundreds of small bones, and employees removed the rest with tweezers (photo 2a). In such a high tech facility, none of the bones, guts or fish heads get wasted. North Coast collects these inedible or unwanted fish parts and creates “gurry”: a highly nutrient dense mixture used in fish oil supplements, pet food and fertilizer. Lastly, while touring the facility I soon realized that it smelled…normal. Andrew explained that when fish are removed from the ocean, bacteria can flourish, materializing in that infamous fishy smell. To prevent this, hanging from the ceiling throughout the facility were hoses of ozonated, or electrically charged, water that when sprayed on fish, it eliminates all surface bacteria so that the “fishy” smell disappears. Andrew excitedly asked me to press my nose right up against a half cut bass to discover the true fishy scent for myself. I sniffed it reluctantly, but it was actually pleasant, earthy and natural. Andrew said it was his favorite smell.
BC Dining serves approximately 22,000 meals to thousands of students everyday. But behind the kitchens, it’s clear there are diverse and familial communities within each dining hall (see 3d for a window into the community members at Hillside). Student employees work hard every day to feed their fellow students (photo 3c), and all employees handle massive amounts of food each day for students’ breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks (photo 3b).
While there is significant consistency across dining halls, each unit adds a unique flare to the food that it serves. This is excellently embodied in the cookies. Each dining hall has a signature cookie recipe, like the wide and chunky Hillside cookie, the giant Stuart cookie and famously gooey Eagle’s cookie. This is because the bakery for all BC Dining baked goods is located right behind the Eagles Nest, home to Executive pastry chef Tim Fonseca, a baking master with a competitive edge. Tim makes sure to add a little extra love and chocolate chips to uphold Eagle Nests’ rumored status as the best cookie on campus.
Interning with BC Dining’s sustainability team has given me the privilege of working beside cooks, like Derek (Photo 3a), during FRESH to Table Kitchen Demos on Wednesdays. Every week, the chefs at Lower and the BC Dining sustainability team collaborate to serve and give samples of a dish that is either Fairly Traded, Regional, Equitable, Sustainable or Healthy. Students know this as the night with free (and delicious) samples, but the chefs, managers, and interns like myself consider Wednesday nights as sacred opportunities to share our passion for sustainable food. While I enjoy virtually all FRESH Demos, especially the dessert samples, I particularly enjoy when we sample underutilized fish species, like hake and pollock. This reminds me that we e have power as consumers of seafood: if we are willing to experiment beyond the typical seafood menu, and are persistent in pursuing responsible sourcing, we can help to balance our overfished oceans by trying one of the many underutilized species.
Save That Stuff is the processing facility that collects all of Boston College’s recycling, trash and food waste. While students toss food scraps in bins labelled “compost,” Save That Stuff does not necessarily compost the food that comes to them; they do something a little more novel with exciting ramifications for the future of organic waste handling. First processed to extract non-organic materials like food packaging, food scraps are then handled by engineers like Conrad (photo 4a), who mix the food in a chemically balanced Engineered Bio-Slurry (EBS). Marc Galardi, Business Development Manager of Save That Stuff, explained that certain companies are obligated to send Save That Stuff their pre-consumer food if the waste total exceeds 200 lbs. This rule explains the unsettling amount of Ben & Jerry’s pints (photo 4d) being stored in the food waste processing room when I visited the facility in November. The pints of Brownie Batter ice cream had never been enjoyed; Marc explained that they were likely in the facility due to labeling inconsistencies or allergy conflicts, which he said was not unusual. In these cases, waste production is left out of the consumer’s control, rendering even the most faithful environmentalist, like myself, feeling lost and helpless.
But what was done with the EBS restored my excitement for proper waste management practices — after the EBS is stored in giant, dark green industrial cylinders, it is sent to a wastewater treatment facility in Lawrence, MA, to be combined with septic waste. This facility not only converts the gas of this mixture into energy through the process of anaerobic digestion, but also transforms the solid remains into fertilizer pellets. Conrad appeared delighted that the resource potential of food waste is harvested nearly to full completion at Save That Stuff.
With Save That Stuff, the food circle is essentially closed. Our food is grown at the farm or caught from the sea, prepared and consumed, and then, ideally, re-harvested to create energy or enrich soil to restart the entire cycle. It should be noted, however, that while these photos represent a microscopic window into the realm of our food, this glimpse is also somewhat utopic. Not always is our food picked by Jenna or Rory, our fish handled with so much care by Andrew, or recycled properly by Marc or Conrad. This project, while partly curiosity-satisfying, truly leaves me wanting to know more: is there an uglier side of food production, and what would that look like?
Indeed, only a small percentage of our food is grown and caught locally by sustainable and caring producers (about nine percent in Massachusetts), and unless we actively compost, our food scraps are wasted in an incinerator or landfill. If we allow ourselves the time and research, we can make small decisions that support food production as it should be: regional, sustainable and efficient. In this way, our consumer power and awareness of sustainability become tools to bring a beautiful, responsible food system to fruition — one of which we can be unwaveringly proud.