Students working to improve University dining

The Minnesota Student Association and CFANS students are partnering to build up U’s food standards.

by Lauren Otto

University of Minnesota students and faculty are partnering with the Minnesota Student Association to improve University food services.

A group of students from the Department of Food Science and Nutrition are developing ideas to improve sustainability and nutrition within University Dining Services. Later this month, the group, along with MSA members, plan to meet with Aramark representatives and University administration to discuss the ideas.

Improving on Aramark and the University’s food offering has been a years-long push by MSA.

In 2016, MSA conducted surveys that showed students were displeased with UDS food quality.

This year in March, the University Student Senate and University Senate passed resolutions calling for Aramark to be held accountable for business ethics concerns and lack of dietary accommodations.

The push by the senates led to student representation on the University committee that reviews contracts like the one the University has with Aramark, and the creation of a student advisory council to consider complaints with Aramark.

While MSA and the Student Senate have been pushing for the changes in recent years, the Department of Food Science and Nutrition has been brainstorming improvements in classes for the past year.

The classes, taught by Professor Len Marquart, started as an experience-based learning project, Marquart said.

“That came down to really focusing on UDS and Aramark, and what we can do as students, particularly Food Science and Nutrition students, to help improve meals here on campus,” he said.

He said the ideas ranged from long-term projects like a food innovation center, which would conduct food research to improve options, to short-term improvements like raising nutritional standards.

One of the students from those classes, recent University graduate Jamie Freier, attended a conference in New York called Menus of Change to find ways to implement the ideas and bring them to the University.

Freier said the conference focused on finding feasible ways to implement things like plant-forward diets and sustainably grown food sources.

Graduate student William Lendway attended with her and said representatives from Aramark were present as well.

“[Aramark has] got to be interested. They’ve got to be curious,” Lendway said. “Maybe a Big Ten school would want to be on the forefront of this change, with these 49 other universities and colleges. That’s what I’m hopeful for.”

MSA Campus Life Committee Director James Farnsworth said listening to the ideas from MSA and food science students is a “no brainer” for the University.

“Again, it’s a research institution, it’s supposed to be collaborative in using research and other academic principles in order to guide administrative decision making, so I think it’s kind of a win-win for the University,” Farnsworth said.

Freier said moving forward in improving dining will be gradual.

They will need to make clear how important these changes are for students and the environment, she said, while fine-tuning details that make the changes realistic.

“It’s going to take a lot of effort. It’s going to take collaboration,” she said.

In a statement regarding the upcoming meetings with MSA and members of the Food Science and Nutrition department, the University expressed excitement for the upcoming initiatives.

“Partnering with students in Food Science and Nutrition is a unique and interesting opportunity,” the statement read. “We’re excited to learn more and will continue to work with students, Aramark and the Minnesota Student Association as we move forward.”