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Boston College Focuses on Innovation and Sustainability

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When it comes to culinary innovation and sustainability, Boston College Dining Services has all bases covered.

Made up of a collective team of more than 200 full-time employees and several hundred part-time staff, the college’s award-winning dining services team is taking a fresh approach to cuisine and how it feeds the student population of 14,559.

Most college campuses offer all-you-care-eat dining, but Boston College is different. BC Dining gives students its students flexibility and many more options.

“We are not an all-you-care-eat program,” says Beth Emery, director of dining services. “We’re more similar to a restaurant and we offer a la carte.”

Although students without a kitchen in their residence hall are required to have a meal plan, they can use their funds as they wish. “It’s more like the real world,” Emery adds. “They are learning to budget their funds and they have options.”

Sustainable Options

Another element that makes BC Dining unique is its award-winning FRESH to Table program, a local and sustainable food initiative. FRESH is an acronym which stands for fairly traded, regional, equitable, sustainable and healthy.

In 2017, BC Dining received a $399,705 grant from the Henry P. Kendall Foundation to support a three-year initiative that seeks to promote healthy, regional and sustainable food with a focus on community awareness and education.

“We’ve been nationally recognized for FRESH,” Emery says, noting that the program received a Gold Sustainability award for outreach in education from the National Association of College and University Food Services.

As a part of the FRESH to Table initiative, BC Dining has pledged that it will serve a new menu item each week that meet at least two of the five FRESH standards (fairly traded, regional, equitable, sustainable and healthy).

The program also introduced a mobile demonstration kitchen at one of its dining halls that features a different type of FRESH food each week. Students and community members are encouraged to sample the food while being educated about the benefits of using regional and sustainable ingredients and the importance of regional food systems – as well as how to implement FRESH ideas into their daily lives.

Photo by Christopher Huang

“One of the best ways to make a lasting change is to teach others how to make that change,” Emery says.

BC Dining has a database of sustainable vendor and manufacturer practices, policies and initiatives to ensure its food products come from the most sustainable sources whenever feasible. It partners with New England producers, farmers and fishermen to develop programs that allocate rebates to support socially just and environmentally responsible community projects.

Encouraging Innovation

To encourage innovation and introduce new menu items, BC Dining created the BC Test Kitchen program, which accepts recipe suggestions, experiments with new dishes and incorporates diner feedback. Students, staff and faculty are encouraged to submit their recipe ideas as well as offer feedback.

“It’s not an actual place,” Emery explains. “It’s a program to inspire our team to come up with new ideas. We wanted to be innovative but realized that some of our systems were holding people back.”

The program calls for team members to present two new innovative menu ideas per week for each of the college’s dining locations. “It can be a new recipe for a homemade granola bar for breakfast or a stuffed avocado for dinner,” Emery says. ”It’s really fueled our innovation and we track how many people purchase it. If it’s successful, we add it to our menu permanently.”

Last year, BC Dining received the College Innovator of the Year award from Food Management magazine that recognized the college’s BC Test kitchen, its progress with sustainability initiatives and its new mobile ordering that allows students to order food through an app from anywhere and then pick it up.

In addition to its innovative programs and initiatives, BC Dining also operates three mini markets that have been renovated and customized for their locations in the past three years. A food service component was also added.

The Market at Corcoran, located at the college’s lower campus, is the last to undergo renovation and should be complete in November. Prior to renovation, the market was hardly visible from the street because it was on the second floor of a multi-use building. It’s been relocated to ground level.

It will cater to students who have nearby apartments with kitchens. “So we’ll offer things that they may want to pick up on their way home,” she says. “We’ll also have a popup food location that will offer fun and innovative snacks or menu items that students have been asking us for.”

The other two markets are CoRo Cafe & Market and Legal Grounds. Legal Grounds has convenience items, Starbucks coffee, specialty pizza and upscale sandwiches for freshmen that live nearby. The CoRo Café and Market serves the middle campus and also features a Starbucks, kombucha on tap, flat bread pizza and a large minimart.

“We are always trying to come up with new and innovative ideas,” Emery says. “But we don’t look at what people are doing in other universities. We look at what food retail locations are doing in Boston.”

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