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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.”