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The Refectory
By Debbie Selinsky

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The Refectory Cafe
All Photos By Les Todd / Duke University Photography

Whether it’s the cheese strata made with Fickle Creek farm-fresh eggs, the fair trade, shade-grown organic Nicaraguan coffee, or fresh salmon grilling on the terrace, the aromas from Duke Divinity School’s new Refectory Café are impossible to miss.

And the diners, who come from across Duke’s campus, are giving the café rave reviews. Gushed one first-time visitor: “This is the best food in the history of the human race!”

As the divinity school’s $22 million addition neared completion in the spring of 2005, ideas for its first dining facility were bountiful. Dozens of members of the divinity school community weighed in on what the restaurant should look like, what it should serve, and how much food should cost, a special consideration for students, many of whom are supporting families.

In the end, a group of students led by Sarah Musser D’03 and inspired by a class on biblical ecology and agrarianism taught by Professor Ellen Davis, proposed a restaurant embodying what they had learned in class.

Murals add to an inviting atmosphere in the Refectory Cafe

Their mission was to open Duke University’s first “green” café. This meant, in 21st century language: buying locally grown, sustainable products, recycling as much as possible, preparing healthy food with little waste, paying employees a “living wage,” supporting fair trade, and, whenever available and affordable, offering organic foods.

“The students got together and came to us and basically said, ‘We see eating as more than just putting food in our mouths.’ They impressed upon us how eating is a spiritual act, part of our relationship with God and God’s earth,” says Greg Duncan, associate dean for student services and co-chair of the dining committee, with Susan Pendleton Jones, director of special programs.

“Eating is not just a vital human activity—it’s a theological one,” says Musser, who is currently a Ph.D. candidate in religion. She told the committee that “learning through The Refectory would be a wonderful opportunity to practice the ways of peace, justice and reconciliation learned in both classroom and worship—practices we could share with the larger university community.”

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