NMU Dining participated in a Forward Food Culinary Experience training event this week designed to help institutional food service operations incorporate more plant-based cuisine into their menus. The program is designed to meet growing global demand for more sustainable food.
“We're constantly offering vegan and vegetarian items, but it's always good to revitalize that program,” said Paul Schoonveld, associate director of NMU Dining, who learned about Forward Food at a conference. “Not only is the campus community asking for more plant-based items at our locations, but our full-time staff is asking for more training in this area because, as they're working the line, students are asking them a lot of questions.
“Now our staff will have a better understanding of the concepts behind the demand. They'll also be able to adapt recipes to substitute more plant-based foods and pull ideas from a tried and true recipe bank that we're getting through this training. NMU Dining supplied the food, but there was no charge for the training itself.”
The Forward Food Culinary Experience is sponsored by a department of the Humane Society of the U.S. that advocates for farm animal protection. It was first taught to the culinary team at Harvard University in January 2015 and has since been conducted at more than 100 U.S. locations, introducing more than 2,000 food service professionals to plant-based cuisine.
“There had been a lot of talk about why we should be reducing meat, dairy and eggs in diets, but it became evident early on that we needed to offer help in that regard,” said Amy Webster, Forward Food culinary specialist. “So we hired chefs, dieticians and food service experts to really focus on the food and related training. We want to offer institutions options no matter what they can or can't source. If they can't find processed plant-based chicken, for example, they can make it. Or if they can't source vegan cheese, they can make cheese sauce out of potatoes and carrots.”
The first day of training began with a presentation by Michelle Hensley, Midwest coordinator for Forward Food. She talked about recent news related to the plant-based movement across K-12, higher education, healthcare and other institutional settings. Hensley also addressed the three major “drivers” behind the demand.
“They're concerns about animal welfare, how food directly or indirectly affects our health, and the environmental impacts related to water, land and greenhouse gas emissions,” she said. “We show an interactive graph of how much water is required to produce one pound of different foods. Some of the information can be heavy, but it's empowering to know that food service can help make great impacts in our communities with the things we serve and provide.”
After her presentation, NMU Dining staff broke into teams and experimented with different recipes: from mushroom street tacos and garbanzo bean sliders to cauliflower-crusted pizza and crabbyless crab cakes. They gave brief presentations on their dishes, then sampled the food at a lunch buffet. The second day featured a breakfast buffet, roundtable discussion about day one, another program overview, more experimentation in the kitchen and a second lunch buffet.
Tara McLean of NMU Dining is a vegan and appreciated the effort to promote more sustainable food choices.
“For me personally, it's the idea that it's not necessary to consume animals or animal products in this day and age because we have access to so many plant-based options,” she said. “There's more variety once you get into it because you're looking at grocery store in a different way and trying new fruits and vegetables that wouldn't normally be part of your rotation. You can start simple with things you already like, such as spaghetti and tacos, and just swap out the meat for beans or other choices.”
Forward Food has been replicated in the United Kingdom, South America, Mexico and Canada as world demand for more sustainable food increases.