Table Tents au jus

“The Bourbon Reds, like the Black Spanish, Blue Slate, and Royal Palm, are heritage breeds… they are small birds, with a juicy texture and rich, complex flavors.”
YSFP, “Turkeys”

The Yale Sustainable Food Project, a new branch of Yale dining services, believes in good food, food that nourishes the finest minds of New England. From the fabled Berkeley test ovens to the sprawling basement kitchens of Commons, YSFP fertilizes a community in which the delectable pleasures of growing, cooking, and eating food are woven into the undergraduate experience at Yale. Bewitching, 27 year-old Associate Director Melina Shannon-DiPietro wants to beat the whites of Yale students’ eating habits to a frothy peak with “a new approach to food: one where food is both sustenance, pleasure, and the ethics of the day.” YSFP’s applauded grass-fed burgers, lamb-and-feta patties, butternut squash pizzas, and seasonal heirloom tomato salads are her way of doing just that.

If the ubiquitous table tents were a squishy lamb-and-feta patty, Melina would be lamb, the main ingredient. She crafts their copy, plucking words from the soil of her wit with the same intensity she turns against the garden’s hardy radicchio crop. Gordon Jenkins would be the feta—the piquant curd that kicks things up. A dash of flavor thrown in to zest up the table tents, Gordon admits he has “condoned, and in many cases exaggerated the whimsy,” though he protests that his wordplay “comes from a desire to keep food and environmental literature fun.” Joshua Viertel, YSFP’s other director, and Lucas Dreier ‘04, a full-time farmhand, stand in as taste testers, editing the table tents’ text to ensure their ingredients have been well blended but not over-stirred. Finally, the perfected concoction must be laid out and grilled by Thames Printing Inc., whose head-of-press once telephoned Melina to profess his enthusiasm for printing on recycled paper.

Taking several days and many high-quality ingredients to prepare, the table tents are a rare organic delight. While they can be frozen and shipped—they have been found as far afield as Beatrice, Nebraska, Berkeley, California, and New York City, where Columbia University has filched entire excerpts for its cafeterias—they are typically served in Yale’s own 14 dining halls. There, common as collard greens, they replace the backs of cereal boxes for thousands of homesick college students. Unfazed by the vicissitudes of the seasons that regulate the food they describe, the table tents provide reliable solace, day in and day out. For those who can’t make it through the gates of Berkeley College to enjoy Melina’s exquisite YSFP treats, the tents are an ever-present alternative. However inedible.

—Jonny Dach

More Stories
Broke by Design