University of Rochester Dining Services has been integrating new initiatives to promote local, sustainable, and nutritious food on the River Campus. In June 2018, Dining became a partner of Harvest Table, a new division of Aramark, the University’s food service provider. Harvest Table focuses on chef-driven menus that incorporate local and homemade foods to improve consumer health and satisfaction, while also promoting environmental sustainability.
The Harvest Table program encourages chefs to create their own recipes, and trade menu ideas with other Harvest Table schools. The program has brought an increase in house-made items like sauces and salad dressings—because of this, Danforth and Douglass Dining Halls are now 90% additive free. This partnership has also led to an increase in responsibly sourced meat and fish. 85% of the protein and seafood in residential locations is responsibly sourced, and the remaining 15%, which is composed of sausage and cured meats, is being transitioned this summer to the local Bostrom Farms. All seafood served is purchased to Monterey Bay good/best guidelines.
To encourage all dining hall customers to incorporate more plants into their diet, Dining Services is bringing a plant-focused approach into menus. Those who eat meat will still have access to high quality, local meats, but there is now more emphasis on focusing a meal around vegetables and non-meat proteins like legumes. So far, this has been a successful model—the number of servings of vegetables have increased every week from spring 2017 to Fall 2018, as has the servings of non-meat proteins.
As of August 2018, 60% of the food purchased by Dining Services is locally procured. This number continues to rise with partnerships with local farms and Headwater Food Hub, an organization that partners with New York State farmers to bring fresh food to restaurants and universities year round. Dining Services is also reducing processed foods, and with them ingredients like added sugar and saturated fat. Once non-house made sauces and dressings are phased out, Douglass and Danforth Dining Halls will be 100% additive free. Consumption of total overall calories, saturated fat, and sodium have decreased each week from spring 2017 to fall 2018. The next step is to bring these same changes to retail operations.
Dining Services, in collaboration with Dining Teem Green aims to be environmentally sustainable by reducing and composting waste. All coffee locations on the River Campus offer a discount for customers using reusable mugs, and residential dining centers offer a reusable clamshell program. Dining Services also developed an option on the food-ordering app Tapingo that lets customers order a drink ahead of time, and get the drink filled in a reusable mug when they arrive to Starbucks. This option has increased in popularity, and will be available at other River Campus coffee locations soon.
All University dining centers have pre-consumer composting and recycling, Douglass and Danforth Dining Halls compost and recycle both pre-consumer waste and post-consumer waste. Next semester, Dining Services will begin a pilot for collecting post-consumer compost at OptiKale. Watch this brief video which explains the University’s organics collection program from start to finish. Dining halls have also begun reducing source waste by purchasing the meat of entire animals instead of individual cuts of meat.
These recent changes have been effective and popular. Providing more local foods has conserved 1,043 gallons of gas, avoiding using 9.17 tons of carbon since 2017, and waste has been significantly minimized. Students, faculty, and staff can interact with Dining Services by giving feedback with notes on the Napkin Walls in Danforth and Douglass, and each note is answered within 24 hours. There is a new and updated Rochester Dining website, which provides menus along with nutrition facts and allergen information. All of these updates have led to an increase in satisfaction among customers surveyed since fall 2018. Dining Services continues to support local, sustainable, and healthy eating for the University of Rochester.
Written by Isabel Lieberman, Class of 2021.