Opinion: Bon Appetit Puts Less Effort into Nutrition Info than You Did for Any of Your Humanities Papers.

CW: Discussions of nutrition, food, and dieting

It’s March 1, 2021, and I sit in a noir detective’s office surrounded by a smoky haze. Through the Mobile Order app, I purchase a sandwich with a number of toppings and a salad. My order will not be ready until ten full minutes after I set it to be. Until then, the investigation is afoot. In an attempt to track macronutrients, I comb through the Bon Appetit Café website. Each individual ingredient of the sandwich is listed – and their nutrition facts are hidden behind several clicks off the standard menu and a popup window. Dozens of minutes of desperation and basic arithmetic later, I have the nutrition values of the sandwich I ordered – values that most places would just tell you when you ordered the sandwich. Then comes the salad. A hardened detective like myself understands the brutality of the real world – and one of the coldest, hardest facts that comes with it. There is no way to find the nutrition facts for a salad on the Bon Appetit website. Or the shrimp rolls, or most of the drinks, as they’re all pre-packaged. I sigh and glance at my phone. The screen says “Order released,” but my heart knows it’s still being prepared by the grill. It’ll almost certainly be late. 

Illustration by Mychal Miller

Illustration by Mychal Miller

There’s a number of reasons why students like myself want a better system of nutrition information. Personally, I’m at high risk for Type 2 diabetes and, as a countermeasure, am managing my weight via a diet which demands you track macronutrients. It doesn’t have to be that specific: any student trying to build muscle could benefit from tracking protein and students with vitamin deficiencies need to know how much they’re getting from the food at Commons. But in the current state of Bon Appetit’s website and app, they’ll have a hard time doing so. Any implementation shouldn’t be exorbitant, to account for individuals who don’t want to see the nutrition facts, but they should be significantly more visible. 

This isn’t an instance of failure of the local management in charge of staffing commons. In fact, they’ve dedicated themselves to a number of accessibility options, including a special instructions section in the app if you need your food prepared a certain way. But the Bon Appetit website – more indicative of larger management – is astoundingly bad, and someone should answer for it. There are small loopholes in Oregon law that allow them to do the bare minimum and still provide hurdles at every step for those trying to track nutrition. Like previously noted, pre-packaged food does not need its own information on its vendor’s website as long as it’s labeled – a law that makes sense in theory, and can be awkward in the age of ordering pre-packaged food in advanced and picking it up with no knowledge of its ingredients. Additionally “customized menu items” are exempt, so there’s no obligation to add up the values of that sandwich for you, no matter how easy it would be. And of course, the weekly specials featured on the boards in front of commons are entirely exempt. 

But it’s important to note that doing the legal bare minimum is often also the moral bare minimum, and to be employed by a supposedly prestigious institution is to be expected to do more. There’s plenty of speculation to be done on why Bon Appetit seems to not try at all to inform you about the food you’re eating. One less-than-favorable reading could assume they’re driving strip-a-dilla sales by discouraging you from thinking about the concept of a strip-a-dilla and what’s in it. But as much as I despise Bon Appetit for their refusal to make tracking nutrition easy, that’s almost certainly not the case. The truth is, there’s likely little demand for nutrition facts to be optimized at a high level. Instead, local management branches take the blow for students with specialized dietary needs, while Bon Appetit as a whole doesn’t worry about overall accessibility. 

Offloading the responsibility to individual groups like the one we have for Commons makes sense, but it still sucks, and there’s a few easy ways it could be a lot better. First and foremost, the application. I find it hard to believe that if they could track my tens of thousands of “points” (before that feature mysteriously vanished), they can’t spend the time implementing a database of the nutrition info for the ingredients on their menu, so you can see the nutrition of your full order once it’s compiled. It’s an easy enough fix that I’d offer to do it myself – but there’s plenty of far more capable computer science students at Reed who would be happy to. Additionally, Bon Appetit needs to change pretty much everything about their website. I don’t want to have to interact with the Taqueria portion of the menu like I’m browsing apple products. When I click on the nacho cheese sauce, I don’t want to be embraced by the web design embodiment of gentrification. I’d even take the nutrition facts as a simple, barely-formatted PDF, because at least that wouldn’t take an extra two clicks per ingredient. They can even hide their nutrition facts behind a free OnlyFans if they want – as long as a place exists where the information is clear and reliable, and there’s links to find the facts about the items that aren’t listed.

Bon Appetit isn’t the worst thing on campus. Considering each of the geese as their own entry, they’re not even in the top one-hundred. But still, their existence makes me ache with disappointment, because as much as I’d like to purchase the game hen – whose baffling existence on the menu will be noted, but not discussed – I have no idea what’s in them, outside of the tears of debt-ridden students begging for a menu with cheaper, healthier food.

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