When you walk into the bright, open, bustling space of the Arbuckle Dining Pavilion, the first thing you’re likely to feel is overwhelmed. Like most dining halls, this one is hectic with chatter and the heady mix of food smells; but the layout of Arbuckle is decidedly non-linear, so that if you’re standing at its threshold for the first time, you might not know what you’re expected to do. So the first thing Arbuckle has to teach you to do is to find your way around.
If you’re lucky enough to notice the large signage near the left entrance, you can read through the offerings available at each station, demystifying the process a bit. However, if you come in through the right, you’re on your own. The room is high-ceilinged, and all along the top of its melon-colored walls are puzzling names: Social Networking, Action Items, Foreign Exchange. Titles like “Hot Commodities” and “Market Mix” make a little more sense in the dining-hall context, but it’s still hard to know what to make of this place without doing some wandering around. Maybe other diners are able to take more decisive action, but if Arbuckle has taught me anything, it’s that no matter how many times I go, I should not choose my meal without doing a long and contemplative lap of the perimeter. You might think the Spanish chorizo and Oaxacan cheese quiche sounds like the way to go, but that’s only because you haven’t gotten to the coffee-encrusted short ribs yet.
Tucked into each food station are helpful navigation hints (e.g. the salad bar now includes a sign at one end with a large arrow that says “Start Here”). But as you’re hunting for these directional cues, you might start picking up a different message. Scanning the wall prints that depict humble farmers and colorful marketplaces, you’ll find definitions of terms like “locavore” and “dry farming.” And that’s maybe when you realize that the masterminds behind Arbuckle (i.e., Bon Appetit dining services) want to feed you more than just food–they want to feed to you an agenda.
Every food item served at Arbuckle is awarded one or more color-coded seals, signifying that item’s moral and/or nutritional virtues. A salad from the Market Mix station might be labeled “Farm to Fork,” meaning that its ingredients are seasonal and from a nearby farmer, or a stir fry from Foreign Exchange might get the “In Balance” seal for meeting the latest USDA guidelines. Other designations include Organic, Vegetarian, Vegan, and Seafood Watch (for meeting the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s guidelines for sustainability). The color code is unpacked on table tents scattered across the surfaces of the dining area, which also announce the nutrition topic of the month and, for the last week in March, Farmworker Awareness Week. URLs are listed for eager diners who want further information.
It’s conceivable that you could make it out of an Arbuckle dining experience without ever absorbing any of its hormone-free, no-antibiotic, low-carbon, fresh, local propaganda. You could drop in for a meal, clean your plate, and thereby bypass the waste system designed to encourage composting and recycling over throwing anything away. But it’s hard to leave without thinking to yourself, “Man, that was–by a long shot–the tastiest meal I’ve had on campus, and yeah, it was a dollar or two more expensive, but I should come back sometime.”
And that’s how Arbuckle starts to teach you to care about your food.