Jake Miller / Gavel Media

Menus of Change at Boston College: A Taste of a Healthier Life

Last Wednesday, September 14, 2016, just as the sun was beginning its descent over Gasson Hall, hungry Boston College students flooded the campus’ three main dining halls, intent on finding a decent dinner after a long day’s work. Those accustomed to a beefy hamburger with a side of fries, however, may have been surprised to find an extensive variety of new and innovative foods, provided as part of BC's most recent culinary showcase, Menus of Change.

Founded in 2012 by the Culinary Institute of America and the Harvard School of Public Health, Menus of Change is a collaborative initiative aimed primarily at introducing healthy, plant-based foods to colleges and universities across the country. Last June, BC representatives attended a program at the Culinary Institute which highlighted the fundamental principles of Menus of Change. This event not only kickstarted BC's involvement in the initiative, but it also served to inspire an entirely new philosophy within the realm of BC Dining.

According to Beth Emery, management director of BC Dining, Menus of Change was inspired by a series of core principles regarding health and nutrition. Since the fall of last year, BC Dining has been working to integrate a different principle into the menu each month, so as to both educate and gradually introduce the student body to new concepts and flavors. Some examples of this integration have included choosing healthier oils, promoting fresh and local seafood, and differentiating high fat from low fat products.

“Menus of Change is not just about dining and offering new options, but there’s also a research component to it, such as the idea of [the] Protein Flip,” said Emery. “An example of this is the blended burger. We want to show students that you can still have a really tasty burger that is 50% vegetables and 50% beef, and you’re making a healthier choice for you and the environment.”

According to the Menus of Change website, the goals of the Protein Flip theory are to reframe students’ understanding of their daily protein intake and also to increase their awareness of the environmental issues surrounding nutritional choices.

John Banoub, MCAS '16, has been involved in BC Dining for the past two years. Regarding the recent additions to the menu and the gradual transition towards healthier, more sustainable food, Banoub shared that he is hopeful for positive student feedback.

“Ultimately, what we want to emphasize is that this program is not just about transforming BC Dining and the food offered—it’s about engaging with the students,” Banoub said. “It’s about asking students what they like and don’t like and [offering] them a variety of choices that are more thoughtful when it comes to being healthy and sustainable.”

Following the Menus of Change showcase, which included options such as the “Holy Grain Bowls,” a variety of vegetable and tofu skewers, and an impressive display of fruit water, students were encouraged to take a survey providing feedback on their experience. The gathered data will be organized within the next week so that BC Dining can evaluate the success of each dish.

Catherine Backer, MCAS '17, was one of many students who was thrilled by Menus of Change and its introduction of new dining choices. A vegetarian for the past eight years, Backer admitted that she was nervous coming into BC, given that most of the options seemed either meat-based or carb-heavy. After her positive experience on Wednesday, however, Backer’s attitude on BC Dining has shifted completely.

“I had the pleasure of eating at Lower and was blown away by the variety and ingenuity of all the new options,” said Backer. “I decided to choose the tofu skewer with smoky baked beans, braised greens, and spicy green beans, all of which were top-of-the-line in quality, taste, and nuance.”

While Emery certainly values taste and nutritional value, in discussing Menus of Change, it was clear that both she and the other members of the BC Dining staff consider health to be much greater than one’s diet. The underlying principles of Menus of Change are neither intended to be a weight loss regimen nor a political statement; but rather, they are intended to gently guide students towards living fuller, healthier lives.

“Everyone I work with is passionate about good food and making food a part of a healthy lifestyle,” said Banoub. “Menus of Change will really allow us to share that idea with students and work with [them] to continuously improve what we offer.”

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