From great vegetarian Indian food at Thali Too to Barcelona’s Spanish Tapas, New Haven is full of delectable food for every palette. Despite the failure of Yale’s only food related publication, the Epicurean, Sarah Strong BK’16 didn’t want to give up. She was an original staff member of the first Y Pop-Up and felt disappointed after the closing of the publication. Strong said she knew “the desire for a publication among the food community was growing.”
Strong got the idea to start a Yale chapter of SpoonU—short for Spoon University— after seeing a friend at the University of Pennsylvania posting about her chapter. Unlike the Epicurean which focused on cooking, SpoonU is a comprehensive website that covers all facets of foods. It is both a nationally consumed online resource and an umbrella organization that gives registered universities customizable pages that allows student contributors to add their own content. In this way Yalies are able to view the Yale branch of SpoonU to read about resources relevant to our campus. Strong liked the idea of adding this type of site to Yale’s food community, and contacted the founders of SpoonU who were enthusiastic about a Yale chapter.
Founder of SpoonU, Mackenzie Barth was a student at Northwestern University when she noticed the lack of publications about food on campus. She wanted to start a food-based company, and worked with a group of friends to create a “by students, for students” food magazine, which could comment on cooking in dorms and eating on a budget. She was surprised that while many food publications existed for adults, there was nothing about the food and lifestyle of college students. The publication focused on teaching fellow students how to cook in dorms and where to eat cheaply, yet healthily in Evanston. The magazine was met with positive reception, and soon students from other universities started reaching out inquiring how to start a similar publication at their school.
When she graduated, Barth made SpoonU her full-time job. She focused on creating a core team to help schools create their own publication, at this point using a solely web-based platform to allow individual universities to have their own sub domain and function. Barth notes that the goal of the publication is “to make all schools self-sufficient and to allow them to explore their individual food community through curating their own content.” Each school has its own Editor-in-Chief who creates the focus for that particular university. Strong holds this position at Yale.
Exploring SpoonU’s various branches reveals interesting differences in campus culture. At Northwestern, articles about cooking in dorm rooms are very popular. At Yale, where most students live on-campus and don’t have a kitchen, articles focusing on lifestyle and eating out tend to be more popular. Despite the fact that many students do live on campus, recipes still exist on the site. Strong’s reasoning behind this is that she “wants SpoonU to become part of readers’ lives both on and off campus, so that when they want to cook something it becomes one of their first stops for recipes.”
Barth says the greatest strength of SpoonU is that it is multi-faceted. One of the most popular columns, “Live,” gives students the ability to read about healthy lifestyle habits. “Learn” helps students put recipes into practice. Schools also have the option to add columns about local restaurants and grocery stores, along with information about international eating when one is studying abroad. Barth says SpoonU’s utility comes from the fact that frequently “college students are just searching for inspiration in food, but they do not know where to find it.” Strong believes that SpoonU is coming into Yale at a good time because the “New Haven food scene is great and always expanding. Students don’t always access all of it, though.” SpoonU can give students the ability to broaden their horizons and to give many students a place to be a part of a food community on campus.
Barth and Strong both have a lot of optimism about what SpoonU can mean for students both at Yale and all over the country. Today, SpoonU has 1400 contributors and has 60 chapters at universities. Barth ultimately believes that regardless of the size of SpoonU, their unique mission will stay the same. “We want to help college students eat intelligently.” SpoonU national is even looking to partner with places like Whole Foods so that their money-making model is one that utilizes making authentic, meaningful connections.
As for SpoonUYale – they hosted their launch party on November 12, 2014 in conjunction with many local restaurants. Strong says they experienced widespread support from both the New Haven food community and Yale students who attended the event. Strong wants the magazine to become a part of a bigger conversation at Yale. “I would love for Spoon to facilitate an even wider and more publicized conversation about food at Yale.” She also hopes that SpoonU can become ubiquitous on campus and on students social media feeds, where students can share SpoonU articles in the same way they might share a Buzzfeed link. SpoonU articles, like Buzzfeed articles, have catchy titles and lists that get the reader more excited about food. The latest have been things like “10 Things I Learned From the #100healthdays Challenge” and “10 Must Have Apps for Foodies.”
For those interested in contributing their food knowledge, staff applications are available at yale.spoonuniversity.com.