This week, we explore eating at Bowdoin. Several students share insights on how the dining hall can either serve as the crux of the Bowdoin experience or play a completely insignificant role.
Adam Berliner ’13 hails from New York City and grew up surrounded by international cuisine. Like many Bowdoin students, he was first drawn to the College because of its highly acclaimed food, but soon he shared other students’ complaints about the dining hall.
“The times weren’t good for me; I don’t like being forced to eat at 6:30 every night,” explained Berliner. “I also got sick of the institutional feel of the meals and hated waiting in lines for food.
“As good as the food is, you have to remember it’s still cafeteria food. It can never be the same quality of food I can produce for myself in my kitchen in just 30 minutes,” he added.
Halfway through his junior year and already living off-campus, Berliner elected to go off the meal plan, becoming one of the few Bowdoin students who make that choice. For Berliner, cooking actually adds convenience to his day. It serves as a time for him to relax and de-stress.
Other students never contemplate going off the meal plan because of anticipated inconvenience.
“I’m pre-med, so the actual time I would have to cook for myself is really low,” said Ian Kline ’15. “Most of my meals at school are under 30 minutes. I love to cook though; over breaks I cook for myself.”
Out of the eight students we interviewed, five are on the full 19 meal plan, two chose the slightly more limited 14 meal plan, and Berliner is the only one fully off it.
“I contemplated reducing to 14 meals this year, but in the end I thought 19 was better because I wanted to force myself to eat breakfast,” said Josh Ly ’15.
Living and eating off campus has its perks, but Berliner also cites the drawback of being incognito.
“After sophomore year, people kept asking, ‘Where are you? I don’t see you around anymore,’” said Berliner. “I definitely see a lot of people less and less, but the people I want to see, I’ll seek out. It’s kind of nice not to bump into the hundreds of other people that I don’t want to see after a long, stressful day.”
Though a packed dining hall can breed anxiety, many students counteract that by concentrating on what mealtimes permit: social interaction.
“I like that Bowdoin students try to win dinner—we stay at the dining hall and talk forever,” said Ayaka Okawa ’14. “It’s a time to wind down and procrastinate on homework without feeling guilty because you’re giving yourself social time.”
One-on-one dinner dates are an option for students who want to get to know each other better, but ultimately intimate dates can be hard to achieve when friend groups congregate at the dining hall.
“Because the school is so small, you always end up seeing every person you know in the dining hall,” said Michelle Johnson ’15.
“Even though you try to have a meal with just one person, your friends ask, ‘Oh, what are you doing? We’ll come along, we’ll all sit together.’ You wind up with all your friends at one meal, which is great, but you can never talk about anything because it’s so crowded,” she added.
Ellis Ratner ’14 almost exclusively has group lunches, and finds it easy to hold spirited conversations.
“I’ve been going to lunch with the same people since freshman year; it’s an unspoken rule that we always meet at the same time at Thorne,” said Ratner.
“I feel like some of my friends plan their classes around that—they need that hour. We have really intense conversations about topics from the philosophical to political to scientific, such as climate change policy, hazing, free will and the NAS report, of course,” he said. “The dining hall provides us a place to sit down and talk about these issues.”
In lieu of crashing a stranger’s meal, some students elect to grab lunch or dinner alone, using this time to catch up on homework or just decompress. But for a first year like Jeffrey Chung, the idea of eating alone is still daunting.
“Sometimes I feel very stressed because I’m scrambling to find someone to eat with,” said Chung. “That’s a fair source of stress for me. If I had a book or something, maybe I’d feel comfortable eating alone in the dining hall.”
Adrienne Chistolini ’15 likens the dining hall to a Whole Foods store with its plethora of healthy food items.
“I’m constantly impressed by the variety of foods here,” said Chistolini. “We have so many wholesome options, not just simple foods; instead we have exotic-sounding foods like quinoa with fruits and brown rice. I’m excited to look at the menus every day before I go to bed and see what’s for breakfast.”
Long lines are a small price to pay for a full buffet at every meal, considering students at other schools must fork up cash at their à la carte style dining halls.
“Compared to other dining halls, you don’t have to worry about the price of each item at Bowdoin,” said Okawa. “I think that makes us more likely to eat things like salad in addition to a main meal because you don’t have to pay for things separately.”
“After being at Bowdoin for a while, the food is really great and still high quality, but you do get tired of it because they do rotate through things,” explained Ratner. “It’s nice to go out sometimes.”
Though Berliner saves money by being off the meal plan, it’s costly to mimic the quality of food available in Bowdoin’s dining halls.
Chistolini notes that the dining hall presents her with options that she would never consider otherwise.
“I’m much more willing to try different types of foods,” said Chistolini. “There’s a healthy mentality on campus—eat healthy, exercise and maintain a good balance. Bowdoin has definitely improved my eating habits because most of these options weren’t available to me. I didn’t purposely decide not to eat these foods in the past.”
Berliner agrees that some Bowdoin students have become masters of portion control.
“I think it’s hard to seriously binge eat at Bowdoin,” Berliner said. “Can you get that much crappy food in you in one sitting?”
The dining hall can also be a site for excessively controlled eating. Okawa described how startling it was to observe people restraining themselves at buffet lines.
“I have definitely noticed other people eating like rabbits,” she said. “They only eat salads and really lean meat. I sometimes feel pressure. I think to myself, ‘I’m a girl of the same size, should I be eating that little?’ But I’m an athlete, so I go for the meats. I’m not going to deprive myself of all of the calories that my body needs.”
Johnson points out that eating disorders may be generational rather than institutional.
“People having weird eating problems might be a result of Bowdoin’s image of ‘let’s all be fit and skinny,’ but it’s also a result of people being 20-year-old girls—that kind of thing happens,” she said.
“I think it is a contagious way of thinking for a lot of people,” said Chistolini. “Because we are such a small school, it’s easier to be affected by different eating approaches and mentalities. A lot of people become hyper-aware. I know a lot of it is mental so I just try to focus on myself and my health.”
The eating experience at Bowdoin may not be perfect, but students still seem to have a generally positive view of the Dining Service, the types of food offered, and the dining hall atmosphere at Bowdoin. For those who find the campus food culture less than savory, students like Berliner prove that one can have a satisfying Bowdoin life without visiting the dining hall 19 times a week.