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Finally, an alternative to fast food on campus!

Are you interested in eating well in a peaceful environment while on campus? If so, then you need to check out the Food for Thought Caf퀌� in the basement of Smith Memorial Student Union.

Located next door to the Women’s Resource Center, the Food for Thought Caf퀌� (FFTC) opened late last month. I had a chance to speak with co-manager Jesse Engum about the Caf퀌� and try some of the delicious fixings!

“We are interested in a number of priorities in setting up the menu,” Engum said. “Firstly, we feel that the best food is that which comes from what is seasonally, locally and organically grown or raised. To this end, we’ve designed the menu around winter crops such as roots, squash, wintergreens and products that can be preserved with appropriate technology such as beans and corn. In the spring, we will change the menu completely, responding to organic produce that will become available then. Our menu will change four or so times per year in this fashion. We believe that local and seasonal food is a strong basis for a healthful diet and a socially responsible economy. We do make some concessions to accommodate our local interests. For example, coffee isn’t grown locally on a commercial basis, but it’s a very large part of our local diet and business. To offset the detriment of purchasing something like this, we strictly buy coffee that is shade grown, certified organic and traded at three times the economic standard for fair trade certification. It is roasted locally and in small batches by Stumptown Coffee Roasters, and delivered to us each week, the day that it’s roasted. Aside from the politics of food production, we believe that food must be made from fresh, quality ingredients. All of the food we prepare is made 100 percent from scratch. We don’t use any pre-made sauces, dressings or spice mixtures. We soak beans, lentils and peas, and mix our own seasonings from individual raw ingredients. We believe that people can taste the difference and will be much healthier for it. Of course, we are on a college campus, so the food must be inexpensive enough for a student to buy. Portland is an amazing city for food. With this in mind, we feel that people’s palates here are more discriminating than to tolerate the fast-food options otherwise available on campus. To respond to the dietary needs and interests of people on and around campus, we’ll endeavor to offer plenty of wheat-free, vegan, low gluten, lacto-ovo vegetarian and omnivorous food options. These will be expressed in pastries and deserts, salads, soups, sandwiches and main entrees.”

Future plans to expand the menu include, “offering on a daily basis: hot and cold breakfast items and lunch consisting of four or so salads, two soups, four or five hot entrees, sandwiches, and fruit and deserts,” Engum said.

The wide-open space in the caf퀌� allows one to stretch out and feel comfortable. The music piped in is a pleasing mixture of Latin, French and other equally palatable sounds. The tables are huge, too! I look forward to sneaking down there after my afternoon class and grabbing a table and sprawling my never-ending homework/reading about while enjoying the vegetable stew with polenta and green salad with balsamic vinegar complete with cranberries. I find it scrumptious and filling as I relax to the quiet sounds of the music. The hushed and whispered voices of others are truly out of respect for the environment – although the couches in the back are rather comfortable if you’re in the mood for sprawling.

What about the coffee? They have a cache of cups and saucers the size of soup bowls! It’s fab-u-lous drinking coffee out of such a big cup. And the coffee is, dare I even utter the words, better than Starbucks. There, I said it. But it’s true.

There are future plans to upgrade the space. “We have many plans to continue making the dining area more hospitable. We’ve painted, pushed for new carpet (thanks to Julie North) and have made other minor improvements. We’ll continue to make the space more and more comfortable. We are still setting up to a large degree,” Engum said.

The caf퀌� caters to the university by providing good food, great atmosphere and menu items even a college student can afford. The Food for Thought Caf퀌� is a delicious alternative to the limited options on campus. The food is filling, extremely tasty and very inexpensive. Just make sure to keep it down when you’re there. Folks there relax, study and enjoy the quiet peacefulness.