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Pure idealism? Not necessarily. Local food is usually tastier. When Alice Waters, the celebrity chef, helped her daughter's Yale cafeteria switch to a seasonal, regional menu (even the chips are made from organic potatoes grown in Connecticut), students from other dining halls began forging IDs to crash the feast. When Brown introduced Rhode Island Macouns and Winesaps--replacing the Red Delicious and Granny Smiths grown for long-distance trucking--apple consumption doubled. To be sure, some colleges find it easier and cheaper to install fast-food counters. And some students would just as soon dine on Kraft cheese and Cocoa Puffs ("This stuff is weird," grumbled University of Portland physics major David Baldwin, 18, sniffing at the salmon-fennel latkes). Even a few Yalies grouse that the all-local dining hall doesn't serve tomatoes in winter. "My generation knows how to put food in a microwave and eat in front of a computer screen," says Louella Hill, 24, a food activist at Brown. But she adds, "When someone bites into an heirloom plum, I see a profound awakening."
That awakening is enhanced by growing contact between students and farmers. At the University of Portland's local-foods lunch, fish broker Amy Dickson set up a display with shells, nets and a sign reading SIGNATURE SALMON: 100% LINE-CAUGHT IN OREGON WATERS. "My slogan is 'Roe vs. Wave: Salmon is a choice,'" she joked. Aaron Silverman of Greener Pastures Poultry gave out brochures describing how his chickens "wobble around as they please." And wheat farmer Karl Kupers touted the environmental benefits of no-till planting. "Students come up and shake your hand and call you a hero," said Kupers, whose co-op sells to seven area colleges. Spokane senior Emily Magnuson, 21, echoed the sentiment. "It's a homey feeling to know who's growing your food," she said as the scent of fresh-baked bread made from Kupers' wheat wafted out of the kitchen.