In 2012, actor Josh Radnor released a film entitled Liberal Arts; it was shot at Kenyon College, his alma mater that’s nestled away in Ohio’s scenic countryside. The plot allows many of the university’s attributes to come through on screen an exceptional English program which has bolstered the schools’ reputation as a “New Ivy”, diversified student body, and breathtaking campus that’s marked by buildings which appear untouched for decades (some of them are, thought the architecture of Olin Library is a modern marvel). It’s the scenes filmed in restaurants that might be most interesting to prospective students. Why? Because when we say restaurants, we really mean one and it’s more or less a café. The grounds at Kenyon haven’t been commercialized like other campuses have. There’s no Chipotle here. No, not a Wendy’s either. Students flock to a nearby deli for their grocery needs, and several bars provide weekend entertainment. Thankfully, the school has a stellar dining program that relies heavily on local offerings. It’s achieved national acclaim, and students have nothing but positive remarks to share about it.
When talking about mealtime at Kenyon, it’s hard not to first reference the beauty of Pierce Hall. This renovated building is spacious by design, and boasts stained glass windows that are a sight to behold. The school has become a leader in the local food movement many of their ingredients are sourced from farmers in the area. A majority of the colleges we investigate fall short in the dining department due to a lack of variety. Undergraduates have made it very clear that frozen entrees that lack what we’ve dubbed “The Fresh Factor” grow old very quick. Kenyon has a much different approach. Their menu changes three times a year to focus on the climate and what foods are in season. Take a look at some of the interesting points we found below.
- Chefs have a dedication to eliminating waste. Whole steers and hogs are procured for the dining hall, and their lesser known parts are incorporated into other dishes.
- Vegetables are readily available, and officials have remarked on the large quantity of them being consumed kale has been a favorite since its 2009 introduction. A beloved smoothie among Kenyonites includes: kale, ginger, honey and yogurt or tofu. All of these things speak to a sense of good health and nutrition on campus.
- 10 to 12% of the student body are vegetarian, vegan or gluten-free. This means that 1 in 15 people in any given Kenyon classroom has a dietary restriction. To accommodate this, Pierce Hall has a stack of shelves regarded as the “allergy sensitive area” where students can find the foods that meet their needs. $3,000 worth of gluten free cereal, pasta, bread, and sauces are purchased every month. This kind of commitment really is unprecedented.
- Chicken is the one meat that Kenyon struggles with sourcing locally. 2,300 lbs. of chicken are used each week, and there’s just not enough availability in the area.
- Dining-hall leftovers go into a “pulper”, which is a machine that grinds up waste that’s ultimately used as a fertilizer for the lawns very cool. This reduces the school’s carbon footprint
As for feedback from current students, they say that they’re genuinely impressed with the variety of offerings. It seems agreed upon that chefs go out of their way to serve new dishes. The head chef even takes requests, suggestions, and complains directly from their Facebook page. Close interactions like this are possible for a small yet elite school like Kenyon. In fact, its undergraduate enrollment is less than 2,000. Having just one dining hall has its pros and cons. On the plus side, students aren’t required to scan an ID card for entry. They simply walk in when they’re hungry, and are treated to as much food as they can eat. However, a sole location like this can make for long lines during peak hours. We still think that Kenyon will more than please the culinary-inclined student who’s conscious of sustainability efforts, fresh ingredients, and just general innovation. These are all things that we just don’t see enough of. If you’re really interested in Kenyon, check out what one alumni wishes she had known before attending.
Ryan James is a ’13 alumnus of Ohio University’s College of Arts & Sciences with a bachelor’s degree in writing and media. He currently works as a copywriter for a Fortune 500 e-commerce corporation based in Columbus, OH.