Thursday, November 4, 2010

Stanford Kitchen Confidential

I love heading back to the Stanford University campus every five years for my reunion activities. Besides parties, round table discussions, and the architectural sea of red, I enjoy taking classes and learning what's new. This year I took a fun and informative tour called 'Stanford Kitchen Confidential: Dorm Dining Today'. I was curious to find out how meal service has changed since my years of dorm eating so very long ago. I will never forget the California Surprise: a casserole composed of eggs and all the leftovers from the week, a concoction that kept us guessing each time it was served.  I will also not soon forget how the meals during critical finals weeks seemed to be the least tasty and nutritious.  The rumor was that the meal service staff had to use up all the leftovers each quarter before breaks, resulting in the worst meals just when we needed the best.

How things have changed! Stanford Dining supports the academic mission of the university in serving great tasting, healthy, sustainable food in a fiscally responsible manner. Its vision is nothing less than being the best in the industry. From all indications they are achieving this mission. I'm all the more grateful since my son Jacob is a freshman there now. Stanford Dining sees its role as food providers for students, which has a direct effect on quality of life, physical well being, and mental performance.  Some interesting facts about Stanford Dining, a nonprofit department of the university:

- They serve 12,000 meals a day in 10 dining halls
- Food includes grass-fed beef, wild Alaskan salmon, and locally, organic grown produce
- They figured out how to pay for cage-free eggs by turning on fewer lights during meals
- Besides the typical pizza and American fare, they offer Indian, Thai, vegan, and Mexican food every day
- One dorm is completely nut-free for those with allergies
- They have a no garbage policy; everything is compostable
- They've gone practically trayless which results in less labor, water, and energy to wash trays, in addition to cutting on food waste
- Smaller plates mean less food eaten and wasted
- Leftover food is donated to the homeless, and leftover oil is used for biodiesel fuel
- They collaborate with the Medical School and Center for Society & Ethics to provide programs on wellness, nutrition, and sustainability
- Student liaison Dining Ambassadors help the dining staff make changes
- Late night food is available from 9 pm to 2 am for night owls
- The football team has a special menu since the players eat four types of protein at every meal and LOTS of berries
- Summer camps and conferences don't provide the same menus, but subsidize much of the school year programs
- All dining halls are open to the public; you can pay cash and try out the meals
- A year of 19 meals a week costs students $5600, not at all cheap but IMHO worth it to ensure my son's nutritional needs are met

The many restaurants on campus are not run by Stanford Dining but provide a nice alternative for students, faculty, staff, and visitors. I was surprised to find out that the Subway sandwich restaurant in Tresidder Union is the highest grossing Subway in California. Tresidder also houses a Fraiche frozen yogurt shop, Peet's Coffee, Jamba Juice, and the CoHo (Coffee House).

Our tour ended with a nice breakfast. I had steel-cut oatmeal with brown sugar and raisins, while other reunion attendees enjoyed fresh Belgian waffles, egg scrambles, bagels and muffins, cereal, or yogurt and fruit. This isn't your typical institutional food, and Stanford Dining leads the way in innovating and transforming college meal service. Go Cardinal!

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