U Food Services strives to satisfy diverse tastes

by Jeremy Taff

The University tops the Big Ten and is ranked ninth in the nation for the availability of low-fat and vegetarian foods on campus, according to a physician-conducted survey, but vegetarians and health advocates on campus are saying more still needs to be done.
The survey, conducted by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, asked university food service managers nationwide to submit sample menus. The research group did a nutritional analysis on the fat content and availability of foods essential for a healthy vegetarian and non-vegetarian diet. The results, released last week, showed the University’s Food Services to be at the top of the 38 universities analyzed.
The survey lauded the University for offering low-fat and cholesterol-free options, as well as a wide range of vegetarian options. Most dining halls offer sandwich bars with hummus, tabouli, pita bread and a wide assortment of vegetables.
But some students say that the dining halls’ menus aren’t always consistent. “The problem is that the majority of menus put out by the food service don’t mean anything,” said Rachel Leach, a sophomore in kinesiology who is on the Pioneer Hall council. “One night, bean soup was switched to ham and potato,” Leach said, “and this happens all the time.”
Claudia Bruber, general manager of the University’s residence hall food services, said the department is trying to do things differently than it has in the past, and realizes it needs to do a better job of meeting students’ needs.
“We have made great strides,” Bruber said, “but we’re not there yet.” Students have very different tastes, Bruber said, and vegetarians specifically have a very educated palate that food service must learn to accommodate.
The residence halls’ menus need to be more consistent, Leach said, and Centennial Hall sets a good example to follow. Every night they have beans at the salad bar, serve vegetarian foods alongside non-vegetarian entrees, and have steamed vegetables. Hall cooks also prepare veggie-burgers if they serve hamburgers, Leach said.
Leach said a Food Service Committee, composed of both students and food service staff members, was formed this fall to inform menu designers of student suggestions. But the committee has been off to a slow start. Students who have been appointed to the committee will meet on Monday afternoon for the first time.
Bruber said that she looks forward to the meeting. “Believe it or not,” she said, “we want to be good.”
Dr. Andrew Nicholson, director of preventive medicine for the committee that released the survey, said the ranking shows that the University is doing a comparatively good job, but testimony from vegetarians is ample evidence that more needs to be done. The number of vegetarians nationwide is increasing significantly, Nicholson said, and this is not without good reason.
Seventy-seven percent of American men already have blockages in their heart by the time they’re 21, Nicholson said. These blockages cause heart attacks and other health problems when victims reach their 40s, Nicholson said.
College is an important time in students’ lives for developing healthy eating habits, Nicholson said, and the more they stick to a diet of fruits, vegetables, grains and beans, the better off they’ll be.
Linda Brady, professor of Food Science and Nutrition at the University said she agrees. “(A vegetarian) eating pattern has been shown to decrease your risk for some chronic diseases than other eating patterns associated with a higher risk,” Brady said.
Duke University received the highest rating in the survey for its wide range of fruits, vegetables, grains and beans on its dining halls’ menus. Students enjoy foods such as African-vegetable stew and a personally designed stir fry.