A Closer Look: The Log Lunch

DSC_0128The doors to the Log are flung open, and a line of people snakes onto the sidewalk. Inside, utensils scrape against metal pans as students and faculty dish up a vegan lunch of black bean burgers, sweet-potato fries and spinach salad. Amid the buzz of voices and obvious camaraderie, Sarah Gardner, associate director of the Center for Environmental Studies, greets guests one by one.

“You made it!” she cries, hugging one student. “Make sure you get a burger,” she tells another. “The green sauce is arugula pesto.”

It’s the last Environmental Studies Log Lunch of the spring semester. The weekly tradition dates back to 1972, five years after the college established its environmental studies program. Every Friday during the academic year there’s a home-cooked meal—the food comes from local farms whenever possible—and a presentation on a current environmental issue.

Gardner organizes the weekly one-hour lunches, which take place in the Log. Sometimes the speakers are students sharing research, Winter Study projects or thesis work. Academics, activists and politicians, including many Williams alumni, also make presentations.

At a lunch last semester, Georgette Yakman, founder and CEO of STEAM Education, spoke about Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) in Hoosick Falls, N.Y. With her was Michael Hickey, a former member of the Hoosick Falls Village Board who is credited with discovering the toxic chemical in the water system and who filed a federal class action lawsuit against the plastics plant in the town.

“Log Lunch typifies the friendly, welcoming and traditional side of Williams,” Gardner says. “Students rub elbows with a professor on one side and a community activist on the other, and they might sit across from the person who runs the renewable energy program at the U.S. Department of Energy. They find their compatriots there, eating homemade soup and strategizing to save the world.”

The soup, or whatever is on the menu that week, is made by students. This year, seniors Hannah Levin ’16 and Laura Stamp ’16 supervised food production and presentation. They met with local farmers, planned menus and spent Friday mornings cooking with other students. “The event brings together a community of people interested in the same types of issues,” says Stamp. “It’s rewarding to see a room full of people eating the food you worked so hard on.”

For the last Log Lunch of the year, Gardner plans a ceremony to honor the graduating class. Guests fill their plates at the Log and head across Spring Street for a family-style picnic on the lawn. After a short speech, Gardner presents each of the 19 seniors in the program with copies of The Sixth Extinction, by Pulitzer Prize-winner Elizabeth Kolbert, the Class of 1946 Environmental Fellow.

Says Gardner, “My goal is that every student becomes concerned about the environment. The variety of our talks means there are new faces every week. Log Lunches are a catalyst for getting people involved with issues they may never have heard of otherwise.”

—Natalie DiNenno ’18