College students, interns drive D.C.’s food culture

The crowd of college foodies at TasteTalks D.C., a food lover event held June 17. (Courtesy Becky Hughes)

Sophie Ho, special to

WASHINGTON — At 6:30 p.m. on a recent Tuesday night, excitement swirled in the hot summer air as college students and interns crowded around a wooden table, their hands grasping for its contents.

The attraction? A gourmet key lime doughnut, courtesy of District Doughnuts. It’s not your typical fare for the college-age demographic — a luxury leap from the prototypical student meal of greasy pizza and fries.

But the snack was taken in stride by the nearly 200 students, interns and a smattering of young professionals who crammed into the penthouse at 1776 in Dupont Circle for TasteTalks DC, a college food event organized by Spoon University.

Artisan pickles from Baba’s Pickles, tuna and avocado chips from Founding Farmers and salads from Sweetgreen joined the key lime fried dough on the menu. Students, some in business casual attire after a day at the office, drank organic coconut water kombucha and noshed on lobster rolls from Luke’s Lobster.

Recently, the District was ranked as one of the top 10 cities for foodies by Livability, a social website that compares living factors in American cities. And it’s not just residents driving the food scene in the nation’s capital.

College students who attend local schools or flock to D.C. for the summer are one of the fastest-growing arms of the area’s food movement.

“Despite what people may believe about college students — that they don’t care about food — the truth is that the younger generation cares a lot,” says MacKenzie Barth, co-founder of Spoon University, an online food publication targeted at students.

TasteTalks DC was the second such event Spoon has thrown for student foodies. Tuesday’s turnout was large, but Barth wasn’t surprised. She says D.C. has a culture of food appreciation and an emphasis on local and sustainable options. She also says the city’s younger demographic is more interested than ever in what they’re eating and from where their food comes.

When Spoon University began in 2012 — a dream cooked up by Barth and co-founder Sarah Adler in their Northwestern University dorm room — its goal was to provide a resource for college foodies to dish on their snack appreciations, swap favorite recipes and share healthy eating tips.

Since its launch, the publication has spread to about 40 campuses across the nation.

In January, Georgetown became the latest campus to join Spoon. Tori Goodell, a Georgetown junior and editor-in-chief of the newly-minted publication, says she and her friends began the chapter after hearing positive reviews of Spoon from her best friend.

Her love of food, and desire to encourage her fellow students to burst out of the “Georgetown bubble” of campus food options and the restaurants that line M street, sealed the deal. Now, the semester-old publication has 40 staff members.

“I grew up in New York, so I was definitely used to food culture and restaurant life. Part of the reason I wanted to go to Georgetown was for D.C.’s vibrant food culture, and I wanted to bring my appreciation to a more professional level with Spoon,” says Goodell, an English major.

“When I moved to D.C., I don’t think I realized just how important food is to the area.”

Georgetown’s Spoon University, like its counterparts across the nation, offers quick cooking tips (like the many ways to cook an egg) as well as advice on how to shop at Whole Foods on a budget. It also includes student reviews of local restaurants and cafes.

Spoon is not the first publication of its kind in the District. George Washington University student Audrey Scagnelli launched College & Cook in January 2012. Similar to Spoon University, it’s also filled with recipes and food tips and recently started a partnership with USA Today College.

Going out to eat in D.C. can get expensive, but the city’s plethora of farmers markets is one quality that pushed the District onto the list of top food cities. In addition to selling local produce and locally-made products, many of D.C.’s farmers market vendors serve fast, ready-to-eat meals, such as tacos at Chaia, dumplings at Pinch and sandwiches from various food trucks.

Elise Widerlite, a Georgetown senior and the creative director of the campus’ Spoon publication, argues it’s not that hard to find a deal in the District — from happy hour to late hours, not everything will break the bank.

“Food and eating is important to people; it’s a social experience and we’re happy to make a resource for students,” says Widerlite, who adds that interest in food encourages other creative pursuits from students.

“We all think that we can change the world, whether that’s through supporting sustainability and climate change, or saying no to food waste,” Widerlite says.

“We’re interested in seeing how we can make D.C. food more hip and fashionable, and also healthier for us.”

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