Pilot Wild Oats delivery initiative brings healthy, affordable food to campus

“An apple a day keeps the doctor away.”

“You are what you eat.”

And of course, the classic: “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.”

We’ve all heard these age-old sayings about healthy eating, but when it comes down to it, sometimes Lay’s are the only carbohydrates I get for the day. And I know I’m not the only one.

Though the image of a college student eating Doritos for breakfast is a classic trope, it comes with larger implications. Last summer, Landon Marchant ’20 and Eleanor Lustig ’18 determined that food insecurity was an unspoken concern for a fair number of Williams students. Students who were responsible for their own meals, be it because they were on reduced meal plans or living in co-ops, struggled with spending time on cooking for themselves, despite the health benefits that came from doing so. From students eating an insufficient number of meals each day to being unable to prepare meals that had proper nutritional value, Marchant saw an aspect of the College community that needed improvement. As Marchant put it, “There was a need. So I said, let’s fix it.”

Thus, in a joint effort with Director of the Zilkha Center for Environmental Initiatives Amy Johns, Marchant and Lustig tested out various avenues for supplying students with healthier alternatives. The management at Wild Oats Market was ready to answer the call. After weeks of sorting out logistics and running test trials, they eventually developed a delivery service that brought fresh food items from Wild Oats to campus. Students could order groceries from a Google Form and then pick up their shipments every Thursday at the Class of 1966 Environmental Center. As the project picked up speed, other students hopped on board. Jillian Jenkin ’19, a Zilkha intern, joined Marchant in managing and troubleshooting weekly orders. Soon, the delivery service became a product of substantial campus-wide collaboration.

In partnering with Wild Oats, Marchant created a list of “dry goods and staples” that could be sold to College students via the delivery service. Dry goods, as the name would suggest, are food items like granola and cereal that can be preserved with very little effort, perfect for the everyday college student’s needs. Staples are the classics – rice or bread, eggs or milk, permanent fixtures in any kitchen. The single criterion? The foods on the list had to be healthy. “The unhealthiest things on there were probably the protein bars,” Marchant said, laughing. Because the delivery program gained significant traction over the summer, it could expand its menu options to even include skyr. From butter squash to tofu, the grocery list was comprehensive in variety while also being basic enough for any college student trying out recipes from WikiHow.

The initiative was also created with affordability in mind. Marchant stressed that “the prices are comparable to those of Stop & Shop.” And indeed, most of the menu items matched standard food retail prices. Bananas that would be sold at 99 cents a pound at any typical grocery store were also sold at 99 cents through this service. The largest difference in sales price that I found as Marchant took me through the list was only a dollar. After pinning down a set pricing list, the group worked with Wild Oats to establish an efficient payment process. The result: Wild Oats would keep an open line of credit for Williams students. Once the orders were picked up, students just needed to pay in cash. “We’re working on Venmo; it’s a process,” Marchant said. The pay-at-pickup system worked out well over the summer.

Above all else, the initiative was designed to be healthy, for both the students and the environment. “Collaborating with Zilkha made sense, because we wanted to be as sustainable as possible,” Marchant said. As the hub of all eco-friendly activities at the College, Zilkha was already involved in multiple ongoing efforts to work within the local community. Providing students with healthy options gave them a baseline from which they could learn to cook and prepare food that would be both tasteful and nutritional. Beyond teaching students how to cook for themselves, the delivery program also provided benefits in budgeting and money management. Students also had to supply their own bags. “There’s a middle ground between instant ramen and plated meal boxes. And that middle ground is food delivery with standard, healthy options,” Marchant said. At the heart of it, the project is about increasing accessibility.

Where is the delivery service right now? Temporarily put on hold, as those in charge of the project are looking for someone to whom they can hand over the reins. They are looking for one or two students to supervise the operation, facilitate transactions and order pickup. Marchant is planning on meeting with Wild Oats representatives soon to see how the project can develop. “We would love to continue this into the school year,” Marchant said. “If people are interested, then we would be more than willing to keep going.”

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