Plant-Forward Eating at Carnegie Mellon

Students on college campuses across the country are eating up the plant-forward movement. Good thing, too, because eating more plants, and fewer meat and dairy products, not only makes for a healthier you but also a healthier planet.

Vegans, Vegetarians & Plant Forward – What’s the Difference?

Different from vegan or vegetarian eating, a plant-forward diet doesn’t exclude meat—rather, it simply makes plants the focus of one’s diet. So, for example, at dinner time, the plant portion of your meal—the salad or grilled veggie, let’s say—takes up more space on your plate than the chicken parm, pork chop, or strip steak.

CMU Loves Plants, Students & the Planet

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“Offering more nutrient-dense menu choices is better for student nutrition,” says Director of Dining Services Pascal Petter.

Carnegie Mellon Dining Services embraces the plant-forward approach as part of its program because student health and wellness is a number one priority—and also because it recognizes the role the food industry plays on environmental impact and sustainability.

“As we continue to shape the dining program on our campus, specifically in relation to health and wellness, we know that offering more nutrient-dense menu choices—fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, whole grains and legumes—is better for student nutrition, ultimately impacting our students’ academic performance, social and emotional wellness, fitness goals, sleep patterns, and so much more in their day-to-day life,” says Director of Dining Services Pascal Petter. “Additionally, our program is committed to a more sustainable approach to food service operation. In fact, all leaders in this industry need to have a seat at the table to make a true impact on the health of our communities and our planet.”

Plant-Forward & the Environment

According to the World Wildlife Foundation, dairy cows—and their manure—emit enough greenhouse gases to contribute considerably to global climate change. Moreover, if manure is handled improperly, it can degrade local water resources and compromise ecologically significant areas. And here’s a pretty staggering statistic: according to the United States Geological Survey, one quarter pound hamburger requires 150 gallons of water to make.

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Plant-forward eating attempts to lessen the harmful environmental impacts that result from mass meat and dairy product production.

Plant-forward eating attempts to lessen the harmful environmental impacts that result from mass meat and dairy product production. Purchasing and eating local fruits and veggies lessen that impact even more. But the change really takes hold when a majority of diners treat meat and dairy as sides instead of the main dish.

This past summer, Carnegie Mellon’s Dining Services Director Pascal Petter and Dietitian and Nutrition Educator Jessica Tones, as well as CMU chefs from CulinArt Group, joined other universities and industry leaders, including Stanford University and Google, at the fifth annual Menus of Change conference, which focuses on nutrition and public health, environmental stewardship and restoration, and social responsibility and food service. Established by the Culinary Institute of America and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, the Menus of Change initiative offers practical, actionable solutions that help food services organizations transition to plant-forward dining experiences, decreasing their environmental footprint through water conservation and more.

“Menus of Change inspired us and our CulinArt chefs to re-craft some of our menus and to create plant-forward menus at new dining locations that just opened at the beginning of the 2017-2018 academic year,” says Tones. “I also walked away from the conference with a renewed awareness of the importance of compost and recycling options in an effort to reduce food waste on campus, so I make sure that these options are always available during our campus dining events by way of student groups who focus on the environment and sustainability issues.”

CMU Food Day at the Rangos Ballroom in the Cohon University Center.

Dining Services celebrated National Vegetarian Month with a Best Vegetarian Dish on Campus sampling and competition. In addition, campus partners hosted information tables on various wellness and sustainability topics and the CMU community shared their love of plant-based foods with a fun, interactive photo booth. “We were excited to highlight our dining vendor’s most delicious plant-based offerings, while sharing resources for nutrition, health, wellness, and sustainability on campus,” says Tones. “The response to the event was overwhelming, and it was a powerful opportunity to shape the future of food on campus by engaging the community in the discussion.”

CMU Plant-Forward Initiatives

Plant-forward is not just better for the environment—it results in less processed, tastier foods that are rich in nutrients. And the proof is in the pudding at CMU!

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Nourish, CMU’s allergen-friendly kitchen, is now certified by Kitchens with Confidence.

As The Tartan recently reported, CMU Dining Services is taking steps to encourage plant-forward eating on campus. Nourish, CMU’s new allergen-friendly kitchen, features a menu free of the most common allergens and plenty of plant-forward options like vegan coconut chia pudding, a quinoa crunch bowl with white bean hummus and kale, and house-made vegan sesame “cheese.” Additionally this fall, Garden Bistro opened in Resnik as a 100% vegan food service station that offers sandwiches and made-to-order sauté bowls. Carnegie Mellon Café now offers smoothies and smoothie bowls, and finally, Evgefstos, the Cohon Center’s vegetarian and vegan location, makes custom and signature “superfood” bowls Monday through Friday.

Next year, the Tepper Quad marketplace will open to the community to feature “AVI Pure,” an entirely new standard of cuisine focused on a modern and holistic approach to food that ensures minimal impact to the environment. “The AVI Pure at Tepper Quad will offer a dining marketplace that is social, collaborative, and healthy in its approach to food, the community, and the environment,” says Petter.

What is your opinion on the plant-forward eating movement? We’d love to hear your thoughts!

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