From learning about economical and eco-friendly fish options at Boston docks to a Vermont conference on sustainability leadership to touring pork processing plants in Minnesota to learning about antibiotic-free choices, MDining staff did not slow down this summer.
Instead, they spent the time learning about, exploring and enhancing best practices for serving meals to University of Michigan students, faculty and staff.
MDining Executive Chef Fran Turchan visited with Sea-to-Table representatives on the Chatham Fish Pier in Boston “to meet with the fishermen who catch the fish we use here on campus.”
Three years ago, U-M became the first Big Ten university to receive Marine Stewardship Council Chain of Custody certification, a designation that ensures the fish served by the university meets environmental sustainability guidelines. U-M partners with Sea-to-Table, which provides seafood from sustainable wild fisheries, and is dedicated to local food-buying strategies.
Turchan says staff members “learned about what’s going on in the ocean. And we brought back new, delicious options for different, more sustainable cuts of fish and greater varieties.” Some of those options include skatefish, monkfish and dogfish — or as Turchan calls them, the “not pretty fish.”
“These fish are not as appealing when first caught, but are tastier and more plentiful than the commonly known varieties, thus being more economical and grown more sustainably,” he says. “We learned about ways they are serving these types of fish in France and Germany, so we can offer new options to our diners.”
Turchan also began the first in a series of courses via the Culinary Enrichment and Innovation program, an elite innovation- and leadership-focused program that is offered by invitation only to 16 of the industry’s skilled culinarians. Students attend three three-day modules at the Culinary Institute of America over a 12-month period.
At the conclusion of the program, participants receive a certificate of completion and continuing education units from the CIA. The program focuses on contemporary flavors and techniques, health and wellness, and leadership and innovation.
“The goal is to bring back what I’m learning and apply it to MDining’s practices to further enhance our end products,” he said.
Other staff members venturing out this summer included Lindsay Haas, culinary and nutrition support specialist. Haas visited Austin, Minnesota, for a program co-hosted by Food Service Director magazine and Hormel.
“Twelve dietitians from across the country were invited to the summit. We toured a couple of Hormel’s facilities including their processing plant and their research and development facility. We learned about the pork industry and how they are moving towards being antibiotic-free. We also learned about the role of sodium in food production.”
Haas says she brought back greater information to meet students’ dining expectations.
“I think that the biggest take-away from the trip was a session that I attended about Gen Z and how their expectations are different from other generations in terms of food. They are really looking for a more authentic experience and are even more health conscious than generations before,” she says.
“I think that it will be really important for MDining to provide even more nutritious menus and that will definitely be our focus for this upcoming year.”
Keith Soster, director of student engagement, and Alex Bryan, Sustainable Food Program manager, attended a conference designed to help participants become leaders in sustainability on campus — the Minnesota Sustainability and DEI Workshop put on by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education.
The sustainability program explores green campus initiatives along with diversity, equity and inclusion. The workshop was for faculty, administrators and staff of all disciplines, as well as community organizers and city officials and planners, who wish to interconnect and integrate sustainability, diversity, equity and inclusion into their campus, curriculum and departments.
“The information helped us more fully connect the concepts like social justice in regards to farming opportunities, food insecurity, food justice, environmental responsibility and being focused on the lack of opportunities that exist for minority populations,” Soster says.
Bryan agrees. “Two of the broadest themes of a university’s priorities are DEI and sustainability, yet they have not historically overlapped in higher education. Through this training, we’ll start to show the overlap and intersections of that work which seems highly important to a student’s future understanding of this complex world,” he says.
All of these MDining summer endeavors are a next step in helping the university building on its history of sustainability accomplishments by pursuing the Guiding Principles and 2025 Goals, established in September 2011.
I take exception to the idea that there is anything sustainable about the factory farming practices of firms such as Hormel. Also, I am disappointed to see there was no activity reported on with respect to learning about plant-based food choices. This is reflected in the M-Dining menus for places like the Fireside Cafe, where there are no vegan entrees and menu choices consist of rice, chips, fries, and the like! I would like to see M-Dining do better.