Healthy Food, Healthy Environment

 
Dining Services has expanded its menu of eco-friendly actions in hopes of providing students with a more sustainably satisfying experience.
 
The Anytime Dining Program launched in Fall 2016 gives residents on meal plans unlimited access to the three dining halls—they can enter as often and eat as much there as they like on reusable dishes (and no single-use, disposable products).
 
Dining Services administrators streamlined service to reduce students’ time in line, and chefs updated menus to emphasize fresh produce, whole grains and legumes, vegan and vegetarian meals, and local, sustainable ingredients.
 
Reminders posted in the dining halls encourage Terps to think about how much food they are putting on their plate: “Take less, waste less,” “Leave small FOODprints” and “Try a little, enjoy a lot.”
 
“We are excited about the improvements we see in our program with the launch of Anytime Dining,” says Colleen Wright Riva, director of Dining Services. “The changes we made to our system and the structure of the resident dining plans have increased student satisfaction, decreased food insecurity and shrunk our environmental footprint all at the same time.”
 
Perhaps the greatest sustainability win of the new program has been the elimination of disposable products: 6.3 million single-use items have been eliminated from the campus waste stream annually. Compost collection increased 48 percent as all food waste remained in the dining halls, rather than being carried across campus to residence halls and academic buildings. The process was simplified by the purchase of a new dish conveyor belt, funded in part by a grant from the Sustainability Fund.
 
These changes were only the beginning. Dining Services has turned its facilities into living-learning laboratories for students. Student projects examine all facets of the operation from purchasing to setup, consumer expectation and customer service. Some students conduct waste audits to assess what food and other items are most and least discarded, while others develop the next Terp Farm product, like the Terp Farm Flower CSA. Students then present their findings and spur discussion at Dining Services’ Sustainable Food Symposium, held at the end of each semester.
 
As a result of the dining transformations and integration of academics and research into operations, UMD was accepted into the Menus of Change University Research Collaborative in June 2018, joining Stanford University, the Culinary Institute of America and 50 other leading universities.
 
Menus of Change contains 24 “Principles of Healthy, Sustainable Menus,” one of which is to serve less red meat. While red meat consumption in UMD dining halls has dropped 28 percent in the past two years, Dining Services officials say the program provides a new opportunity to explore non-traditional menu items.
 
“We are so excited to work together with experts from across many disciplines and industries to advance healthy, delicious and sustainable food through Menus of Change,” says Allison Tjaden, assistant director of new initiatives. “It’s thrilling to put these principles into practice and, with the help of our students, lead the way for a more healthful and eco-friendly food system on campus and across the country.”
 
This story was featured in the 2018 SustainableUMD Magazine