Ryan Miller on the future of Bowdoin Dining
May 5, 2023
Bowdoin’s dining halls provide a source of community for students, and in his first six months as the Executive Director of Bowdoin Dining, Ryan Miller has been excited to play a role in shaping this aspect of campus culture.
Miller came to Bowdoin in late October from Washington and Lee (W&L) Dining Services, where fraternity and sorority houses overshadowed the dining halls as hubs for communal eating.
“At Washington & Lee, at least 75 percent of our students belong to a fraternity or sorority. There’s a dining component to belonging to a fraternity or sorority,” Miller said. “A lot of what makes Bowdoin so special is the community that’s being built in our dining halls. And I think every college in the country likes to say, ‘Oh, our dining program or our housing program is designed in a way to build the community.’ That’s actually happening here at Bowdoin.”
One of Miller’s main goals is to make Dining more sustainable. Currently, only half of the disposable goods, such as takeout boxes, silverware and cups, are compostable due to supply chain constraints. Next year, these items will all be compostable.
Miller has been impressed that 35 percent of Dining’s sourcing is local, and much is homemade, especially given that local sourcing is often more expensive.
“Not every financial decision needs to be the best for Bowdoin if it’s the best for Mid-Coast Maine,” Miller said. “That’s why I love the role that I’m in, because it’s not all about the dollars and cents.”
One of the challenges that prohibits Dining from having more local sourcing is that its demand often exceeds local supply, and local sources often don’t have the resources to distribute their food to Bowdoin.
“Every single day in the dining halls, we are probably receiving 10 to 12 pallets of food in some way. That’s a lot of food to feed 2,000 people, and a lot of local providers don’t necessarily have the scale to get to that level,” Miller said. “The Penn States of the world that have 30,000 students on a meal plan, it’s almost impossible to go to any local provider … so Bowdoin is lucky that we’re small in scale.”
Despite Dining’s sustainability efforts, Miller emphasized the importance of student input, referencing student protests to Dining’s experimentation with Meatless Mondays in 2011.
“I think it didn’t go well because the reality was we were taking away options,” Miller said. “Bowdoin Dining should not be taking a political stance on any social issue that’s happening out there in the world. I think we’re here to provide healthy, nutritious options for our campus communities.”
Miller hopes to follow in his predecessors’ steps in staying at Bowdoin Dining for years. He foresees substantial changes to the dining spaces on campus during his tenure.
“I think the reality is that at some point during my career at Bowdoin, we are going to have to do something with Moulton, whether that’s a renovation or a new dining hall,” Miller said. He noted that in the past two months, Moulton has served more meals than Thorne.
Miller is proud of dining’s number two spot on The Princeton Review’s annual ranking of the best campus food in the country.
“I think more so than anything, the ranking means something to our team,” Miller said. “It’s one thing when your boss comes up to you and says, ‘Hey, your sandwich today was really awesome.’ That does mean something, but it also means something to have this tangible goal at the end of the year.”
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