May 24, 2018

This past year, dining options available on the University of Minnesota campus have seen a change. And those changes are coming from the work of the constituents who utilize M Dining the most: the student population.

Changing the sustainability and food choices available from M Dining is an exciting new opportunity for the group as these issues move to the forefront of social concerns. On campus, this movement found its roots right here in the Department of Food Science and Nutrition, through the work of Professor Len Marquart and graduate student Keagan Ringling.

Dr. Marquart teaches several classes in the department, tasking his class to think critically about dining service and food options.

As part of his courses, students in the fall Food Service Operations and spring Food and Nutrition Management classes identified student involvement in M Dining as a high priority. This included having students be intimately involved in the decision-making process for food served on campus.

“One of the big takeaways from the final class projects were identifying critical points of entry and how students might influence M Dining,” said Marquart.

From those final projects, the student request for more opportunities for hands-on experience in dining on the University campus became evident. The interest and drive from students was obvious, and it was that student passion that continued to move the process forward.

Alumna Jamie Freier (B.S. Nutrition ‘17) and graduate student William Lendway (B.S. Nutrition ‘06, M.S. Nutrition ‘10) took on the challenge of making sustainability a priority for campus dining. The duo attended the Menus of Change Conference over the summer of 2017, bringing back ideas to help make change happen.

According to Freier, the conference was, “an amazing and life-changing event about practical approaches to influence University dining.”

Building off the ideas generated from the conference, the next step came when Ringling and Freier hosted a Jeffersonian dinner last August. Bringing together representatives from campus dining, academia and other sustainable food providers, the event provided attendees an opportunity for open dialogue and idea generation surrounding sustainability at the University, and ways to move this issue forward on campus.

“It goes to show, with the right intention, with good food served in a friendly manner, and with the right people around the table, it pays big time (or big dividends) for everyone,” said Ringling.

From that meeting, the Recipes for Change Internship with M Dining was born.

Four FSCN students, Alison Bodensteiner, Carly Duerst, Savina Pisan and Brad Yentzer, were selected as the inaugural group after submitting applications.

The internship took those four students on a semester-long journey through the food system. During the first half of the semester students learned basic culinary techniques and explored how each stage of the food system affects the environment. In the second half of the semester the interns developed two plant-forward recipes, created sustainability projects, and helped plan a Jeffersonian-style dinner for the end of the semester.

Sustainability projects the group worked on included a food waste fact campaign, making vegetarian options in the dining halls more prevalent, and an educational event on how to take sustainability beyond the dining hall.

Wrapping up the year’s accomplishments was the end of semester dinner, held on May 3. At the dinner, conversations focused on how the campus food system can be more sustainable, with a big emphasis on how meat should play a role in the system.  

But one of the biggest impacts that will be immediately noticed is the students’ contribution to the menu offerings at dining halls around campus. Their recipes - coconut noodles, and buffalo cauliflower tacos - will be featured in the dining halls next semester.

“We are grateful to Laurie Scheich, for generating and supporting the idea of student internships at the Jeffersonian dinner and Halley Burns of Aramark for her subsequent development and implementation of the internship program,” noted Marquart. “We also want to thank James Farnsworth and Will Macheel for spearheading the Student Senate’s recommendations for enhancing UDS.”

Marquart and Ringling are excited to see how this relationship blossomed the previous year, and can’t wait to see how it will grow in the years to come.

“Food Science and Nutrition is dedicated to allowing students to be integrally involved in the food served on campus,” said Marquart. “A seamless partnership between students and UDS would create a dynamic learning environment for students, as they help decide what food to make, how to make it and where and when to serve it. The department and its students are excited to continue to nurture this relationship for years to come.”