The University of Maryland joins the Menus of Change University Research Collaborative

Dining Services is a proud member of the Menus of Change University Research Collaborative
Monday, October 15, 2018

In the past seven years,  the University of Maryland Dining Services (UMD DS) has made a commitment to building exceptional culinary experiences, eliminating food insecurity on campus, and creating noteworthy sustainability impacts. To support this commitment, UMD DS applied to the Menus of Change University Research Collaborative (MCURC). Now accepted to the collaborative, we will join over 50 universities, and 150 organizations and individuals working to leverage our unique position in university dining to advance positive life-long food choices among students.

The Menus of Change initiative advances better food choices and menu development at the intersection of health sustainability imperatives, culinary insight, and next-generation business strategy. The purpose of the MCURC is to create a culture of innovation and sharing within and among colleges and universities using the Menus of Change principles, and to advance a research agenda related to those principles. One of the best ways to advance such thinking is by incubating novel collaborations in university-wide academic and foodservice settings—and innovative collaboration among universities.

As a member of Menus of Change, UMD DS will seek to advance healthier, more sustainable life-long food choices among students. This includes offering more plant-based foods in dining halls and educating students on the benefits of a plant-based diet. As much as possible, UMD DS will adhere to the following principles:
• Transparency about sourcing and preparation of food
• Buying fresh, seasonal, and local
• Focusing on whole, minimally processed foods
• Celebrating cultural diversity and discovery
• Offering meatless menu options
• Incorporating sustainable practices into daily operating procedures.

Two Culinary Events

To further advance the Menus of Change principles, Sr Executive Chef John Gray coordinated two culinary training opportunities for DS chefs and cooks. In May, Chef Gray led 40 chefs and cooks through a syllabus centered on international street food.

“Street food uses local, inexpensive ingredients and bright regional flavors to create unique menu items that will surprise and delight students,” says Chef John. “This is a great way to demonstrate more sustainable cuisine, expand our menus, and bring fun, easy to eat food to the dining halls.”

Then, in August, Chef Gray hosted Guest Chef Jennifer DiFrancesco and the team from the Humane Society of the United States for a two-day intensive training titled “Forward Food”. “Forward Food” is specifically designed to help the cooks at the University make plant-based food for all students, without segmenting one special group of students. The flavors in this program, whether familiar or exotic, provide substantial entrees that all students will enjoy.

“Whether or not you are a full-time vegetarian, you will find delicious food on the menu this year at the University of Maryland,” said Allison Tjaden, Dining Services Assistant Director for New Initiatives. “Many students tell us that they eat meat at some meals and not at every meal.”

These culinary trainings mark two more steps in a journey that began in 2012, when the UMD DS, with the support of the students, faculty, and staff in the Sustainable Food Committee, drafted and ratified a sustainable food commitment. This commitment pledged to support the University’s goal of being a “model of a green university” and its public commitment to become carbon neutral by 2050. To this end, dining services aimed to purchase 20% sustainable food by 2020. Dining not only reached but surpassed this goal by incorporating over 27% sustainable foods into dining hall menus as of 2017.

Three Academic Research Projects

As part of joining the MOCRC, UMD DS has formed a partnership with Dr. Hee-Jung Song, Assistant Professor and Extension Specialist from the Department of Nutrition and Food Science. One of the many aspects of active participation and membership in the MOCRC is bringing research to life using UMD DS as a living laboratory.

Together with Dr. Song, Dining Services hosted Dr. Song’s graduate student, Lauren Pavone, in support of her graduate research relating to food waste and nutrition. During the spring 2017 semester, Pavone conducted regular food waste audits in the 251 North dining hall. Currently, Pavone is analyzing the data and conducting student surveys relating to knowledge and behaviors relating to food waste. 

Two collaborative research themes have emerged to date: food waste and food insecurity. UMD-DS hired (with the Department of Residential Facilities and Facilities Management) a Student Waste Audit Coordinator. In addition, UMD DS works with faculty in the Department of Nutrition and Food Science on food waste research and interventions.

UMD DS has determined that it is critical to ensure that all Terps have access to food and, in response, operates the Campus Pantry, providing emergency food to Terps in need. Since then, UMD DS has worked with stakeholders across campus to assess, understand and eliminate food insecurity on campus. Faculty from the School of Public Health Maryland Institute of Applied Environmental Health worked with UMD DS on a pilot study exploring the idea of food insecurity on campus. Because of the pilot findings, UMD DS launched a large-scale campus food insecurity study in partnership with the Counseling Center. These research efforts are ongoing and continue to expand to include more students, an increasing number of faculty, and strengthen relationships across the University on food system and food sustainability studies – with UMD DS serving as a living-laboratory for the campus.

A New Style of Residential Dining

In 2016, UMD DS revamped its residential meal program and introduced Anytime Dining – marking a dramatic shift from the previous retail dining model. Since then, use of fresh vegetables has skyrocketed, including vegetables from UMD DS’ own Terp Farm, a collaborative project with the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. All vegetables served in the dining halls are fresh, never canned or frozen, which allows chefs to season and roast, steam, grill, or bake, sealing in nutrition while adding flavor and variety to these more popular dishes.

“We serve more Brussels sprouts, broccoli, squash, and green beans than I ever would have imagined,” according to Chef Robert Adams of South Campus Dining Hall. And as UMD DS continues to ramp up participation in the Menus of Change, students can expect to see even more healthful, sustainable, and delicious food on campus.