Where (not!) to eat on Campus: A Guide to Sustainable Deliciousness at Stanford

Posted by at 12:36PM

As Sophomore College draws to a close, and first-years and the rest of us come back to campus, many of us will return and ask each other befuzzledly, I’m hungry — Where should we eat?!
And while some of you may have taken Food and Politics with Rob, Erin Gaines, and co., some others of you might have passed by Slow Food Nation this last weekend in SF.
I myself took part in Slow Food Nation as a youth delegate, attending an Eat-In for young leaders in the good, clean, fair food movement, held this last weekend in Dolores Park.
table stretch
But let’s skip the trans-fatty introductions for a moment, get the skinny (my skinny) on it, on this question of where (not!) to eat on Campus. This is clearly a biased guide, but then again, that’s what blogs and baedekers are for–to help you find your own way.
What follows is a first draft of a Guide to Sustainable Deliciousness at Stanford. It is both incomplete and not unbiased. But it is a start. With that, let’s eat!
Where to Eat
The following establishments receive an A-class rating/grade in terms of sustainable deliciousness.
A+Cool Café at the Cantor Arts Center (hours here) gets one of our highest ratings. As its website reports, this “chic café overlooks the Rodin Sculpture Garden” and offers a “menu of gourment sandwiches, soups, and salads [that] changes seasonally”.
Jesse Ziff Cool’s CoolEatz restaurants make a point of offering regionally and sustainably produced foods. For example, Cool Café often offers pasture-raised chickens, grass-fed beef, and an array of seasonally based salads, fruits, and wines.
Dishes are served on re-usable plates & dishes, with pitchers of water and real silverware nearby. (For a map, see Cool Cafe on Yelp!.)
A+Columbae and Synergy House, vegetarian co-ops. Our next two establishments to receive an A+ in sustainable deliciousness are Columbae and Synergy House. Founded in the 1970s, these co-operatively run Houses offer strictly vegetarian fare to their undergrad & grad residents, and “eating associates” that pay a certain board bill every quarter.
Like Cool Café, these co-ops try to source local, sustainable, and ethical food products whenever possible. For example, dairy goods may come from Clover-Stornetta, the first dairy in the States to be American Humane Certified, flour may come from Giusto’s–the brand favored by artisan bread bakers–and produce may come from co-located gardens tended by hand.
Also like Cool Café, these co-ops offer easy access to composting bins, and err on the side of container and silverware re-use. (You can find these Houses on the Campus Map. If you’d like to try the food some time at these co-ops, talk to a friend that lives there or a student manager for more details.)
ANexus / Bytes. Nexus and Bytes, two cafes located near the Engineering campus, offer tasty dishes, re-usable plates & silverware, and fast service. Unlike Cool Cafe or co-ops on campus, these establishments may or may not serve organic, sustainable, or fairly-traded goods. More research is needed to understand the provenance of their meats, dairy, and vegetables.

The following establishments receive a B:
B+Treehouse. A Stanford student favorite, although the Treehouse hands out an excess of plastic and cardboard containers every day, food quality is generally high, with reportedly hand-made focaccia breads (para tortas) and “fresh” chicken, whatever that means. (At Tresidder.)
B-Thai Cafe. Another hit-and-run establishment favored by students who need to grab a quick meal between classes. Props for the price and speed, but synthetic food service containers abound. No claims made on where the Chicken Sautee comes from, and it seems unlikely that the Shrimp offered are raised in a highly sustainable way.

Where not to Eat
The following establishments receive a C-class grade, or lower, in terms of sustainable deliciousness.

C+the (old) CoHo. Please don’t eat here. Say No to the CoHo(‘s food), or, if you feel the need to support their business, bring your need-to-gain-weight friends or you buddies who were unblessed with a lack of tastebuds (non-tasters as they say on Wikipedia) and have them eat here.

I posted a review on the CoHo re-opening earlier this year, but have to downgrade my rating based on further experience at this Corporate Bread-serving institution, where I was served sandwiches and Vienoisserie that looked decent but tasted… far from decent.
The CoHo does sometimes serve food on an actual plate, but the questionable ingredients, taste, and food sourcing bring the sustainable deliciousness rating down to our lowest score of the bunch, a C+.

(05-SEP-08) Update: I have retracted the previous paragraphs as per in-depth interviews I had today with multiple staff members, bakers, and managers at the new CoHo. While the old CoHo still has some length to go towards sustainable deliciousness, it’s clearer from my discussions today that they are headed in a great direction. Thus, I will abstain from re-grading the new CoHo until these new measure are applied (hopefully soon after the school year begins), and describe these improvements in another post.

For more information about the history of sustainable deliciousness (or lack thereof) at Stanford, check out the following TUSB blog posts:
what Stanford eats“, “Eating (or not) at Stanford“, “The Axe & Palm’s Hidden Calories“.
For a view beyond our little Farm, visit Ethicurean.com or read the books of Michael Pollan, Marion Nestle, or Singer’s Ethics of What We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter.
Gordon slow Foo(d)


13 Responses to “Where (not!) to eat on Campus: A Guide to Sustainable Deliciousness at Stanford”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Cool Cafe is number one? As a vegan, I was pretty disappointed when I went there. There is only one vegan selection; everything else has cheese and egg in it.
    I’d put bytes as number one.
    The fact of the matter is, campus kind of blows in terms of finding sustainable/organic/quality/whatever food.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Suggestion: for the plethora of on-campus eateries that use disposables, BYO! A good tupperware, mug, fork, spoon (spork), plate, bowl, whatever will save resources and be much more enjoyable to eat on! You may get funny looks when you first start out, but if you frequent these places often, it will be worth it.
    And, yes, Cool Cafe is not #1 for vegans, but they do provide organic, local options on reusable dining ware! Ask for a salad or sandwich without the cheese…

  3. e says:

    “Fresh” chicken at the Treehouse means non-frozen, thus non-thawed.
    No idea of its origins, though.
    I agree that the CoHo’s new food is bad; the owner, who also owns the Treehouse, is looking for feedback. Make yourself heard!
    And yes, bring your own silverware to non-sustainable places… or even to those places where they use compostable stuff: less still is more in that domain.
    Another place worthy of note: the Arbuckle Cafe in the business school. Lovely yummy food, hopefully sustainable, compostable ware, and servings are gigantic… and cheap!

  4. lwu says:

    @AnonymousVegan While I hadn’t noticed that Cool Cafe was not heavy on the V (vegan) options, I agree with the other @Anonymous who said to ask for vegan options.
    The truth is that vegetarians may account for perhaps 10% of the population, and vegans 10% of /that/ population, which means that, sadly, your economic vote has yet to have much impact.
    That said, earlier this year I maintained what I called a flexitarian diet with vegan offsets–that is, trying to go out of my way to produce vegan baked goods and dishes to offset the NV (non-vegan) items I consumed.
    While I have respect for the ideals of some vegans (and highly recommend the book Vegan with a Vengeance somewhat moreso than Veganomicon, which does have OTOH a nice set of intro chapters), I think it’s worth working with what we (as a human civilization) have and progressing from there.
    AFAICT, veganism is fairly new relative to strict vegetarianism (or to omnivorism with non-veg side dishes), and it’s pretty tough to be vegan and without much time or money.
    Also, one can be vegan and buy into the agro-industrial-food complex or be a conscientious omnivore who raises their own livestock and bakes their own bread. Of course, the joint probabilities are skewed, but the point is that veganism doesn’t necessarily imply sustainability, although it often might correlate.
    In any case, as someone who has spent time trying to master vegan cooking for my vegan compadres, sustainable deliciousness & veganism is /hard/. Not so much the sustainability but the deliciousness! Come back in a few decades once we’ve learned a bit more and perhaps one day that will no longer be true.

  5. JTK says:

    It would have been nice to see some sources cited or at least some sort of objective rating instead of a bunch of opinions, unsubstantiated rumors, and personal preferences. Yes, I read the disclaimer at the beginning about the post being biased, but… wow.
    For example, why did you downgrade the CoHo on a *sustainability* ranking for what seems to be your dislike of the taste of its food?

  6. lwu says:

    @JTK Sorry, no such sources exist. This is the real world, where objective criteria are hard to come by.
    For the record, the ratings are on *sustainable deliciousness*, _not_ mere sustainability. Sustainable deliciousness is a rating that combines both elements of sustainability /with/ the a developed sense of taste.
    My thesis is that sustainable deliciousness matters. Having lived for a long year in a vegetarian co-op, and traveled throughout the world and States, I’ve had my share of foods. But eating merely on the grounds of sustainability is *not* enough. If you take a look at the background of the Slow Food movement, you’ll see that taste really does matter. If you had attended the eat-in in Dolores park, you would have heard stories of leaders who have talked about how it matters not only if the food is clean and fair, but if it is -good-. They talked of how it matters to win minds through people’s hearts and stomaches, not by empty facts alone.

  7. amit says:

    @ lwu: “vegan offsets”, AWESOME!!!! *I* also do “vegan offsets” sometimes – Ramen noodles :-)) …
    And yes, sustainable does not necessarily mean yukky food. In fact vegetarian food tastes better if it is fresh and in-season, as long as it is COOKED RIGHT! People tend to take things to an extreme and just steam/boil them and serve them up. Pretty yucky!
    Lastly, somehow, for whatever reason EBF still has some of the best food (read tasty) – may be it comes from being named after a cook-book :-). A lot of it IS sourced locally and they TRY to get organic and in-season as well. You dont even mention it, it is an eggregious error of omission .
    I’ve lived in EBF and Synergy (and hence the other co-ops by association). In the taste rankings for co-ops i’d probably put:
    1. EBF
    2. Synergy
    3. Chi Theta Chi
    4. Columbae
    5. Terra (Ghastly food)
    6. Ham (lowest ranking for lack of consistency – sometimes it is FANTASTIC, sometimes charcoal briquettes, mostly just middling)

  8. lwu says:

    @amit thanks for the comment!
    I have heard others suggest that Synergy food is slightly better than Columbae food, but have yet to eat at EBF or Theta Chi.
    With some luck, Terra and Ham will step it up in the academic year to come!
    In the next version of a Guide to Sustainable Deliciousness, I’ll try to incorporate more co-ops into the picture, and perhaps differentiate more between them as well.

  9. lwu says:

    I’d also like to apologize to the CoHo & affiliates for being a bit quick to lay the smack down. I started writing the blog post as a way to get started writing the real version of this guide, and have gotten some great feedback so far. Thanks all!

  10. Anonymous says:

    Lwu, it is no secret that, environmentally, vegetarianism/veganism is better in a number of different ways.
    While you’re right that veganism does not necessarily imply sustainability, it is not just a correlation thing- raising animals is substantially more inefficient and environmentally costly than growing crops…
    which is why it doesn’t make sense that a place that offers almost no vegan options and many different meat options would be rated as number 1 for sustainability. Reusable plates, grass-feed beef, and delicious food are nice, but I don’t think those things have the same impact that going vegetarian/vegan would have. It sounds more like bourgeoisie consumer sustainability, i.e. people who want to have their cake and eat it, too..so to speak.
    I don’t buy the “vegan offsets” idea. Am I missing something? The best approach to supporting sustainability is to simply support the most sustainable industries. Pragmatically, of course, not everyone can do this. But if we really want to have environmentally friendly restaurants on campus, we have to put our money where our mouth is.

  11. Lwu says:

    As for vegan offsets, I’m not sure it works for everyone, but I cook for 60+ every week, and so when I cook vegan, it adds up quick…
    But, it’s just an idea :)

  12. Books says:

    I think all the food on campus is great. Sadly, it is not all organic..


  13. Online Ged Programs says:

    Such a nice article, i really enjoyed to read it.


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