A Student’s Guide To Choice and Knowledge About Food at Marin Academy

December 11, 2017

It’s 7:50 am on a Monday morning. Although there are still 10 minutes until the school week officially starts, Marin Academy students are pouring into the café. If it wasn’t for the delicious smell of chocolate croissants and fresh tangerines, the student body might still be craving an extra twenty minutes for a homemade breakfast in bed. In the MA café you can find students and faculty enjoying the food and communal space during every free block, tutorial, lunch, morning, and after school.

Although the café provides many types of food that keep every member of the community satisfied throughout the day, can the convenience be a bad thing? When it’s as easy as picking out your food of choice and typing in your student ID number to purchase it, not many people are thinking or caring about the origin of their food. Better yet, it’s not even clear how many students think about how healthy the ingredients are.

Understanding the history of the café at MA, the importance of buying locally, and seeing that, as teenagers, we have a choice of what we decide to eat are all key to understanding the importance of caring about where our food comes from.

First Things First, Know Marin Academy’s History Involving Food

When walking through the BBLC and down to the café, it’s hard to believe that students once used this area for a different purpose than being served food. Now known as the Bodie Brizendine Learning Center (or BBLC, for short), the then Admin Building was composed of classrooms and offices. In the back of Foster Hall, which is now inaccessible, was a cafeteria where students could purchase pre-prepared meals that were trucked in and dropped off daily. As described by Mark Stefanski and David Sinaiko, there were, “chicken nuggets, and a lot of fried food and processed food; it was bad.”

In 2007, the Admin Building was remodeled with a plan for a new café that would provide food, focusing on healthy ingredients but still packaged, similarly to the “Grab and Go” section which we have today. Still, the school was not going to install a full-service kitchen, that is until the Eco-Council proposed a plan called “Rethinking the Kitchen.”

The Entrance to the BBLC that leads to classrooms and stairs down to the MA café. pc: Studio Bondy Architecture

In that proposal, The Eco-Council expressed their concerns that the current cafeteria was, “not nutritionally the best kind of relationship with food, number one, and it’s ecologically not the best relationship with food because it’s trucked in from who knows where” as explained by Stefanski. The foundation for the BBLC was laid at the time this proposal was submitted, still with no room for a full-service kitchen. With the help of a last-minute grant from a Marin Academy family and the “Rethinking the Kitchen” plan requesting a healthy, fresh, sustainable full-service kitchen, the Marin Academy Café was made possible at the last minute.

From then on, Marin Academy partnered with Acre Gourmet and now Epicurean Group to staff the café with chefs and also to provide the school with connections to local, organic, sustainable farmers for food deliveries. Without the action of the Eco-Council and the support from the family who granted the money necessary to build the kitchen, this high standard of food very well could not have existed today.

See That You Are Supporting Businesses That Value Products and People Over Profit

At Alvarado Street Bakery in Petaluma, there has never been a doubt in the mind of the company’s owners and employees that producing organic food is much more important than raking in profits.

Julie Mager who works in marketing development at the bakery explained, “Our bakery follows the principles called “Triple Bottom Line,” and it’s people and planet before profits…Is this good for the people that we’re representing and the people who we are giving this product to? Is it good for the planet? Is it made with organic ingredients? And then profits,”.

Julie Mager with the original Alvarado Street Bakery sign that inspired the name of the company.

When companies like Alvarado Street Bakery partner with MA’s Epicurean Group, our demand for their products results in the school providing us with organic and sustainably-minded products. When you purchase toast or a bagel for your pre-class breakfast, you can feel confident that you are playing a role in supporting a business that still fights to stay authentic and honest. You are buying higher quality products ensured by a company that has the customer’s best interest at the forefront of their job.

As said by Scott Lynch, an employee at Hidden Star Orchards, “I like the idea of supporting smaller companies and companies that employ people around me…The owner and the employees come from a pretty close radius, and these people are passionate about whatever they’re doing. They care about the product.” 

 

Scott Lynch manning the Hidden Star Orchard booth at the Sunday Marin Farmers Market

Lynch, who I met at the Sunday Marin Farmers Market in San Rafael at the Civic Center, explained that many of the farmers buy ingredients from each other and establish connections to create the best possible products. He described that their passion comes through in not only these products but the time these owners take to speak to their customers. Being informed about who you are buying from and making an effort to buy from smaller companies means that you are helping support this unique type of market that caters to the people, not the profits.

 

Keep The Perspective That Buying Local Means That Your Money Is Staying Local

There’s a connection between purchasing food at the MA café, shopping for organic and local produce at the supermarket, and going to the farmer’s market. That connection? The money you are spending is going to pay hardworking farmers, their families, and their employees all right here in Marin and the surrounding communities.

Weirauch hands out cheese samples at the Sunday Marin Farmers Market and explains the organic mission of her company.

Carleen Weirauch explains, “All of the money that is brought in from the product, that profit, goes to the family that’s living in the area which they then use to support the local economy so on an economical level it’s really a good idea.” Weirauch is the owner of the Weirauch Farm & Creamery and opens their stand at the Sunday Marin Farmers Market. 

For Weirauch and nearly all those who sell products at the Sunday Marin Farmers Market, the benefit of your money staying local runs deeper than providing local families with a job and a paycheck. Supporting our farmers and creating jobs that can sustain agricultural communities means a higher level of food security. Weirauch explained, “If all of our food is produced at an industrial scale and let’s say all of our food is produced in the Midwest and it’s all shipped here. If anything catastrophic was to happen there would be no food of any sort here.”

Feel The Connection To The Person Right In Front Of You Who Grew The Food You Are Purchasing

Unlike purchasing a meal from a fast food chain, buying from local farmers fosters community and immerses you in new face-to-face connections. Weirauch explained, “There’s this social exchange like you’re here, and we’re having this conversation, and we’re learning from each other, and if you came back several times in a row I’d get to know your name and then we’d get to know each other’s families, etc. So socially it helps bind the society. People always have come together around food.” 

Carleen Weirauch in the milk room preparing the milk before it begins the process of becoming cheese. pc: Weirauch Farm and Creamery

This joining to celebrate health and community extends even to a larger company such as Alvarado Street Bakery. People such as Mager feel a connection to the customers and even the farmers sourcing the company’s ingredients. This is the result of employees who so highly value their identity as an organic bakery and their responsibility to others in the community. “Alvarado is a co-op. [I realized] I was actually an owner. This wasn’t just a job. This is a career. This wasn’t just a job where I clocked in and clocked out. I actually was making a difference,” remarked Mager. 

When you purchase products from any of these conscious companies, you are getting much more than those apples and the positive health benefits from the organic processes used to grow them. Speaking to the same person who harvested your food means that you can feel secure about exactly where your food is coming from and, if anything, you can enjoy a Sunday in the early morning sunshine with other people. 

Often when we purchase food it becomes a transactional experience so why not reap the benefits of a community trying to personalize the market? Even if you are buying organic produce from the supermarket and you aren’t buying directly from the source, there is a unique level of thought put into growing, harvesting, and transporting that food onto the shelf and into your kitchen.

Understand That This Is Your Choice

Back in 2007, the Eco-Council made a choice and took a stand to fight for easy and unlimited access to healthy food, thus impacting student health every year since then. The school began to value sustainable food and student health thus informing choices down the line regarding student life and what teachers taught students about health in the classroom.

We are all going to make our own decisions about where we get our food from and, ultimately, what we value. Above all else, it’s important to know that the food you put in your body is a choice that you are responsible for and have control over. Taking a stand on an issue is, “carving out both an identity, a sense of values, priorities,” said Stefanski. 

Mark Stefanski looks over plants that will soon be ready to plant into larger beds in the Marin Academy Garden. pc: Mackenzie Thomas

As teens and young people, the world around us doesn’t always seem to give us opportunities to take control over our futures and decisions. Taking the time to educate and inform yourself and other people about a topic that has an impact on you, food-related or not, is a choice that is in your hands. “You’re voting with your fork. Students here, until they turn 18, can’t vote in elections but if there is a demand for healthy food, that’s what is going to be given to you. There’s power in making an informed choice and actually affecting change as a result” explained Stefanski.

As a teenager, or even an adult for that matter, that ability to create change and become empowered is something that you can choose to either overlook or take advantage of. With new knowledge about where your food comes from is an opportunity to make a difference, even if that means just slightly shifting your perspective to appreciate the food around you.

Choosing to take the easy way out and deciding not to care about an issue that directly involves you and the people around you is also a choice you can make. But as Stefanski very honestly told me, “That sort of non-caring [attitude]…Boy, well where does that get you in life?”

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