Something for Everyone

You are what you eat.

Really—think about it.

We’ve all used this idiom one too many times, usually jokingly in reference to lousy eating habits. Nevertheless, we are a culture of people branded by what we eat.

We are carnivores. We are vegetarians. We are vegans. We are raw foodies. We are organic. The list goes on.

What we choose to put into our bodies becomes a part of who we are.

Belmont dining services partners with Sodexo to offer carnivores, vegans, vegetarians, raw foodies and organic-consumers alike a variety of options to suit their lifestyles.

With such a diverse demographic to consider, many factors go into planning the weekly menu. Resident Dining Manager David Harrington admits it all comes down to experimentation.

“As far as the vegan and vegetarian plates have gone, it’s been kind of a trial by fire for us because it’s a new program that we’re running,” said Harrington.

We have a corporate menu, but we’ve actually been playing with that menu a little bit because Belmont has a larger vegan population than most of the universities Sodexo generally deals with, so we’ve tried to add in different recipes,” he said.

“If we get good comments on a menu, then we’ll try to run it again—if we find out that people didn’t like it we won’t run it as often,” said Harrington. “Student feedback helps a lot in determining what kinds of foods we put out.”

Student feedback not only helps determine what goes out, it also plays a hand in what it looks like.

“What happens is, a lot of the items we prepare are in bulk. If I took the same item, put it on a plate and made it look pretty, the acceptability factor would be so much higher. When it’s in pans, it’s just like ‘Ew, gross.’ And really it’s the same exact thing,” said Director of Dining Services Kyle Grover to catering to the food needs of students.

This year, the dining staff has taken a new approach, including the addition of a soy milk dispenser, a gluten-free line of bread, pasta, buns, pizza crust—even select baked goods, a vegan bar, veggie burgers, a limited supply of whole wheat bread and a vegetarian or organic option in every meal line.

“I’m very happy that Belmont is expanding their horizons as far as healthier food choices go, as well as providing for more options that fit my personal eating habits,” said freshman Morgan Dorris, a carnivore and organic-consumer.

The dining service team is working hard to come up with new ways to cater to the ever-changing university demographic.

“I think every semester and every year it evolves more and more,” Grover said.

“We set up a vegan bar this semester, and we did that based on a conversation I had in the fall with a few students that had some concerns and didn’t think they were getting the bang for their buck and also the nutritional needs and things that they needed. I tell them that if they have any recipes—vegan recipes, vegetarian recipes—that they want us to run, we’re more than happy to incorporate them into how we do things. We’re going to get it and we’re going to put it out there. Rarely does that happen, but I always offer it.”

The dining team also recognizes the need for expansion in order to be successful. The university recently announced its plans to construct a new dining hall to be located to the left of Wright and Maddox halls and completed by the fall of 2015.

With more room, the dining services team plans to incorporate an entire section of the food court dedicated to veganism and vegetarianism. It also has hopes of presenting students with an entirely organic meal option.

Grover is also looking to connect more with local partnerships to obtain more organic, locally grown produce and meat product. After a recent visit to Kennasaw State University, the team decided to pursue a campus-owned farm, where students interested in becoming involved would partner with a local farmer and grow produce for the university.

“We’ve started exploring and looking at those kinds of options,” Grover said. “The thing is finding someone that will partner with you in that, and the second thing is getting the students on board to do it.”

Both Harrington and Grover tell students the most important way they can contribute is through communication.

The dining team meets daily to discuss meal options based on student comment cards, e-mails, questions and concerns directed to the “Ask David” link on the campus dining website and focus group discussions.

It might seem like a minimal and insignificant gesture, but the key to success in any enterprise is consumer feedback, Grover said.

“It doesn’t matter how good you think you’re doing—until someone tells you they like it or dislike it you will never know,” Grover said. “The key to success of this program is the students communicating with us. Tell me what you want. Then we have a plan to go on.”