You Are Where You Eat

 

Disparate dining-hall cultures reflected in clientele and menu

By Brendan Sullivan '06
Photography by Fred Field
 

One recent stormy evening, students poured down the stairs of Foss dining hall. From his seat a senior Foss regular called across the table to his friend, "I can't believe the rain didn't keep the Dana-heads out tonight, man."

"Do you know them?" his friend replied.

"No."

"Then how do you know they're from Dana?"

"You can just tell."

And vice versa.

For decades the two dining halls have catered to loyal clienteles. At the risk of oversimplification, one group is drawn to Foss's vegetarian and international fare, the other to Dana's fast food, stir-fry, and comfort foods. And with the Roberts dining hall closed for major renovations this fall, the choice has been as clear as it can get.

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Students relax over dinner at Dana dining hall, where the menu and clientele may differ from that of other dining halls on campus.
Photo by Fred Field
The Foss loyalists, or "Fosstafarians" as some call them, are a distinct crowd that can tell their fellows from other Colby students without a secret handshake. The Foss menu caters to those with, perhaps, a more speculative palate. A typical dinner entree from one recent night: chickpea and walnut empanadas, chipotle sour cream, and vegan artichoke tapenade.

"The food here is more adventurous," sniffed Eric Ffitch '08. "Eating in Dana is like eating at a high school cafeteria."

Clearly Foss's wide-ranging menu caters to vegetarian and vegan students, but it also attracts an eclectic group of meat eaters. Among those who self-identify as Foss diners are members of the Outing Club, the woodsmen's team, and Habitat for Humanity, as well as Ultimate Frisbee players, some international students, and many students living off campus.

But across the lawn there is another faction with equally strong preferences. "Whereas Foss regulars look for quieter, slower-paced things, Dana attracts groups that want to see and be seen, a more high-profile crowd," said Joe Klaus, operations manager of Colby Dining Services.

With due respect to Ffitch, this is like no high school cafeteria we know. For one thing the food is better. Colby Dining Services has gained national recognition for the quality of the food in all three halls, and Dana is the showplace, with stations where you can watch the chef cook your stir-fry or assemble a sandwich to your specifications.

Who's in Dana?

Many of the groups include first-year students, away from home for the first time and attracted by the familiar menu. Pizza and hamburgers are always available along with choices of meats and comfort food that many Dana-goers consider more reliable than Foss's menu.

Football players flock to the hall"and to tables just inside the Dana entrance in particular"because of its sheer size and also because of theirs. Dana feeds about twice as many people as Foss, and it can accommodate the entire team. But there's another thing, too.

"Meat, meat, meat," said quarterback Justin Smith '07. "For football players who are trying to gain weight or keep weight on, it is important to eat meat. Because Foss doesn't serve meat on occasion, it leaves us little other choice."

In the main Dana dining area, there is always a table of international students who stay to talk long after dinner. "I think Dana is a more social atmosphere, because, when you come in as a freshman international student, everybody takes you to Dana," said Francis Chapuredima '06 of Zimbabwe. "It's wide open and great for talking and seeing people."

Not that the food at Dana is secondary. "I love Dana food because there is always something to fall back on, as opposed to weird hippie food," said Meg Smith '06, a devout Dana-goer. "At Foss I leave hungry."
While the Foss and Dana faithful create a polemic culinary rivalry, Colby's smallest dining hall, Roberts (a.k.a. Bobs) serves a more low key, neighborly crowd, some of whom are as loyal as the Fosstafarians are to Foss or Dana devotees to Dana. The Bobs regulars are primarily athletes and students who live on Roberts Row and who rely on Bobs because of its convenient location near the field house. Its menu, before the hall closed for extensive renovation last summer, typically offered home-style cooking.

Last semester, though, the Roberts regulars had to hoof across campus and make the Foss/Dana choice. "Last year I never ate lunch at any other dining hall except Bobs. It's a home atmosphere," said Ryan Adams '07, a swimmer who noted that members of the Roberts staff know their patrons by name. After late practices in the athletic center, Adams and his teammates rushed to Roberts just before closing.

While awaiting the reopening of Roberts, at the start of second semester 2006, its faithful were left homeless this fall. In protest, Adams and his roommate made "Save Bobs" T-shirts and wore them the last day Roberts was open. "From what I understand they are trying to make it more like Foss," Adams said. "But I don't fit in at Foss, and at Dana it doesn't matter who you are. I fit in here."

And fitting in at one specific dining hall can become an important part of student identity. Some students even find their dining-hall identity before coming to Colby, said Bayley Lawrence '08J. "I eat at Foss because, on my tour of campus as a high school senior, my tour guide said that's where outdoorsy kids and vegetarians eat, and I'd rather be associated with that group."

Through eight years with dining services, Klaus has noticed that the dining hall subcultures change only slightly over time and the same students frequent the same dining halls night after night.

Whether you are a Dana-head, a Fosstafarian, or a Bobsman"at Colby, you are where you eat.