Northeastern joins innovative food systems collaborative

North­eastern Dining takes a forward-​​thinking approach to food, from its emphasis on sus­tain­ability to offering infor­ma­tive cooking demon­stra­tions and pro­grams. In recog­ni­tion of these efforts, North­eastern Dining was recently selected to join a new food sys­tems col­lab­o­ra­tive that pairs theory with prac­tice to offer impact on research oppor­tu­ni­ties and sus­tain­able menu choices for students.

The Menus of Change Uni­ver­sity Research Col­lab­o­ra­tive, jointly led by The Culi­nary Insti­tute of America and Stan­ford Uni­ver­sity, is com­prised of 37 higher edu­ca­tion insti­tu­tions. It is a con­sor­tium born out of the Menus of Change ini­tia­tive launched in 2012 by the CIA and the Har­vard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

The col­lab­o­ra­tive pro­motes inter­dis­ci­pli­nary research and infor­ma­tion sharing among uni­ver­sity chefs, food ser­vice direc­tors, busi­ness admin­is­tra­tors, and stu­dents with the goal of moving con­sumers toward healthier, more sus­tain­able diets.

We are very excited to col­lab­o­rate with like-​​minded col­leagues across the country to pos­i­tively impact our own uni­ver­sity com­mu­nity and the food system,” said Mau­reen Tim­mons, director of dining ser­vices at North­eastern. “The col­lab­o­ra­tive is an inter­dis­ci­pli­nary mix of theory and prac­tice so we are able to share our best prac­tices while also learning from the other par­tic­i­pating universities.”

As a member, North­eastern has fol­lowed a number of prin­ci­ples aimed at enhancing its dining hall menus, like reducing sugary bev­er­ages and focusing on min­i­mally processed foods. North­eastern also con­ducted a self-​​audit and iden­ti­fied a number of prin­ci­ples it had already adopted, such as “Think Pro­duce First” and “Make Whole, ‘Intact’ Grains the New Norm.”

“We are very excited to col­lab­o­rate with like-​​minded col­leagues across the country to pos­i­tively impact our own uni­ver­sity com­mu­nity and the food system”
—Mau­reen Tim­mons, director of dining ser­vices at Northeastern

One way campus exec­u­tive chef Tom Barton and the North­eastern Dining culi­nary team have embraced the Menus of Change prin­ci­ples is by putting unique spins on classic dishes. Osso buco is tra­di­tion­ally a veal-​​based dish, but Barton and his team will sub­sti­tute a turnip for the veal.

We’ve also adopted an ‘imper­fectly deli­cious pro­duce’ pro­gram and use fruits and veg­eta­bles that are not aes­thet­i­cally per­fect and would nor­mally be dis­carded,” but that are still good quality and offer the same nutrient values, Barton said. “We’ve received a pos­i­tive response from stu­dents and farmers. It cer­tainly aligns with the sus­tain­ability goals of the university.”

The collaborative’s other prin­ci­ples include increasing edu­ca­tion on por­tion con­trol, choosing healthier oils, and improving trans­parency regarding sourcing and preparation.

We want the stu­dents to under­stand their choices,” Tim­mons explained. “These prin­ci­ples are designed to edu­cate everyone in the North­eastern com­mu­nity. Our entire team is excited for the oppor­tu­nity to have everyone involved in this initiative.”

Sus­tain­ability is a pillar of North­eastern Dining’s mis­sion, with the goal of offering foods that are earth, body, and com­mu­nity friendly. Dining ser­vices uses com­postable dis­posal; serves cage free eggs and fair trade bananas; and part­ners with orga­ni­za­tions such as Life­cycle Renew­ables, which col­lects waste fry­olator oil from all dining loca­tions on campus and con­verts the oil to bio­mass fuel.

North­eastern is also the first higher edu­ca­tion insti­tu­tion in the U.S. to operate a dining facility, Inter­na­tional Vil­lage, that has earned a 3 Star Cer­ti­fied Green Restau­rant dis­tinc­tion in a building that is USGBC LEED Gold cer­ti­fied. Dining Ser­vices has also been hon­ored by the Envi­ron­mental Pro­tec­tion Agency for its food waste diver­sion tactics.

Research to inform prac­tice is an impor­tant part of the col­lab­o­ra­tive. To ensure the two go hand-​​in-​​hand, School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs pro­fessor Christo­pher Bosso will serve as the link between North­eastern Dining and ongoing research at the uni­ver­sity. In par­tic­ular, he will oversee a research effort that will enable North­eastern Dining to expand its use of local and regional food sources.

The over­ar­ching pur­pose is to help dining ser­vice oper­a­tions be more sus­tain­able, in mul­tiple senses of the term,” said Bosso, an expert in food and envi­ron­mental policy. “We also want to leverage Dining Ser­vices as an agent of change in its own right in trans­forming the food system and how we eat.”