editor’s essay

What’s in a Meal?

When planning At Buffalo’s first themed issue, we wanted to reflect on food in all its delicious variety. We brainstormed the endless possibilities, peppering our conversations with food clichés to spur discussion during magazine production meetings. Once you start thinking about everything alimentary, it’s hard to stop. Indeed, with so much to cover, we were forced to leave out many notable alumni chefs, restaurateurs and industry leaders, as our list of potential topics quickly mushroomed.

We did manage to fit in changing trends in campus dining, health- and diet-based research, local restaurateurs and their contributions to Buffalo’s burgeoning economy, optimal nutritional intake for athletes in training, a chocolatier’s swirling creations, yummy confections bearing UB’s imprint, raw food innovations, nutriments as art and more. But food is serious business, with hunger and malnutrition the unfortunate corollaries to the way we distribute and consume food. Urban and regional planning associate professor Samina Raja, whose work is profiled in Sharon Tregaskis’ article, seeks to address those imbalances through her Food Systems Planning and Healthy Communities Lab.

I’ll miss these lunches!

I’ve always been interested in UB’s history, and so I especially enjoyed helping to prepare the articles exploring our food-related past. Having worked at the university for 39 years (and retiring after this issue goes to press), I’ve been thinking a lot about campus dining, including my own eating habits on the job, whether sampling international cuisine at Crossroads Culinary Center or gulping down yogurt at my desk. After such a long career, my food-related memories go far back. I recall, for example, an evening reception for new employees in Talbert Hall in 1978. I was 25 and remember my amazement that the university president, Robert Ketter, and a literary luminary like Leslie Fiedler, who was UB’s longtime Samuel L. Clemens Professor of English, were among those invited to welcome new hires like myself.

This past spring, I attended an internal communicators conference and we all had lunch in Harriman Hall, which may be the oldest spot on campus to continuously serve food or feature a dining facility. When it opened in 1934, present-day Harriman (then Norton) included a cafeteria, faculty dining rooms and even a ballroom. It was likened to a campus “living room” for its leisure-enhancing contours. Today it still offers a relaxed ambiance amid the elegance of a bygone era.

Because I’m the polar opposite of a foodie, with little prowess in the kitchen, the details of meals, even if spectacular, tend to fade. But even if I can’t recall what was served, I tend to remember the interactions and conversations over food: judging soup-making contests for our office holiday party, getting to know the UB students from Malaysia and Taiwan whom we hosted at our home one Thanksgiving, complimenting the pianist over canapés at a Center for the Arts reception, laughing over a (too large) mac and cheese with a co-worker when the Big Blue food truck rolled into our parking lot.

And meeting a new colleague at the recent communicators conference. She’s about the age I was back in 1978; we both marveled at Harriman’s undiminished beauty while making our way through the buffet.

Ann Whitcher Gentzke, Editor