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College Dining: How Some Universities Are Next Level!

JUL 12, 2019 • 9 min read

University dining hall food often bears the brunt of campus criticism when it comes to quality, variety and access. But many US colleges are gaining a reputation - not just for their culinary excellence - but for their cultural and dietary variety, sustainability and on-campus produce. Here are ten US colleges which are re-setting the bar for on-campus dining.

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Location: Los Angeles, California

This highly ranked, LA based public university takes menu variety and dining access to a whole new level with four all-you-can-eat dining halls, four restaurants, and an online service that allows students to order to pick-up. Dining also plays a large role in UCLA's commitment to sustainability with 19% of UCLA's produce purchased from sustainable sources. The university also has a cage-free egg and fair-trade-certified coffee policy and sources all it’s fruits and vegetables from US Department of Agriculture-certified organic producers. In addition to composting, recycling, and enacting a trayless dining program, the school also practices Beef-less Thursdays and Green Mondays.

Brown University

Location: Providence Rhode Island

Brown’s many dining halls are known for one key word- variety! The Ivy League university offers two all-you-can-eat dining halls, the Verne-Wooley (V-Dub to students) and the Sharpe Refectory (known as Ratty). There’s a vegetarian restaurant, bakery, in-house butcher, late night campus market - which is famous for its milkshake machine and smaller cafes such as the Blue Room. Brown is Rhode Island’s first Green Restaurant Association Certified location as well, with nearly 100% reduction in plastic water bottles, trayless dining, and reusable to-go containers.

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Bowdoin College

Location: Brunswick, Maine

Bowdoin College has long been known for its reputation as one of the US’s best liberal arts colleges, but few are aware that it also ranked highly for its dining services - largely because of its commitment to fresh food and sustainability. The Bowdoin organic garden is a key part of Bowdoin’s dining experience, providing fresh produce by the season, including vegetables, fruit, and herbs. The Student Dining Authority represents the student body when it comes to input which guides the culinary plans of the professional chefs and cooks who prepare fresh food each day. Bowdoin’s dining is entirely in-house and self-sustaining, thanks in part to 96% participation from students – and the annual Commencement Lobster Bake for graduating seniors acts as an end of academic year highlight.

Vanderbilt University

Location: Nashville, Tennessee

With 22 unique dining locations across campus, it’s no wonder Vanderbilt’s dining services have won over 25 awards over the past five years. Several of the school's dining locations cater to students 24 hours a day. Vanderbilt’s on campus food markets also offer fresh produce and use organic ingredients. At the main dining hall, students can order specialty meals such as specific stir fries or sandwiches, specialty pizzas, or pastries and bagels. Special events, including biscuit bars and produce stands, offer additional variety.

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Northwestern University

Location: Evanston, Illinois.

Once again fresh produce and nutrition form the backbone of the highly ranked Northwestern’s dining policies. The university partners with numerous local farmers to meet its commitment of sourcing more than 20% of its food locally, while also making sustainability one of its highest priorities. The university offers six dining halls for health and wellness and even has its own state-of-the-art teaching kitchen designed by the Culinary Institute of America. Here staff and students can learn more about health and nutrition through fun and interactive educational opportunities.

Yale University

Location: New Haven Connecticut

Yale’s sustainable food program began back in 2001 when the newly appointed chef - her daughter a student at Yale - sought to increase the universities sustainability policies. The result was Yale’s on-campus farm which is not only utilised as an on-campus source of organic produce, but also acts as a teaching aid for professors who instruct on sustainable agriculture. The Ivy League university has 23 on-campus dining facilities which cater for students with food allergies and/or dietary restrictions and each of Yale’s residential colleges have their own dining halls.

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The University Of Massachusetts - Amherst

Location: Amherst, Massachusetts

New England’s largest public university is also home to an award winning dining system which includes four dining halls, 18 cafes, bakeries, and more. Adopting a nutrition-based dining philosophy that incorporates the four values: health, world flavors, sustainability, and community, the university sources produce from local farmers, and sustainable seafood suppliers. Dining options include kosher and halal meals, allergy protections, and vegan and gluten-free menus. UMass-Amherst was also the first school to offer SPE-certified meals. (SPE stands for Sanitas per Escam which translated from its original Latin form means Health Through Food.)

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Virginia Tech (Virginia Polytechnic Institute And State University)

Location: Blacksburg, Virginia

As you might expect from one of the most competitive technology universities in the world, the Virginia Tech’s dining system is known for its great food and excellence in operation. Given the university has to produce over 7 million meals a year, efficiency is key, especially when those meals involve a seemingly endless number of cuisine and dietary options including Latin and Asian fusion and vegan. The campus even has its own Japanese steak house with a sushi bar and grill-top tables! Add to this the university’s You’re Eating Smarter (YES) program, which educates students about healthy eating options, and you can see why Virginia Tech is a recurring name on numerous best college food rankings sites.

Emory University

Location: Atlanta, Georgia

This highly ranked research university takes responsible dining practices with admirable policies on sustainability, produce and waste to a whole new level. Emory's dining program: sources 75% of its food from local producers, reduces waste through recycling, has eliminated the use of plastic bags and Styrofoam, and encourages energy and water-saving efforts in kitchens and dining halls. Emory also donates excess unsold food to Campus Kitchen Emory, which is a student-run service that redistributes surplus food to local food pantries. In addition to dining halls, bakeries, and cafes, students can eat at several food trucks that operate late into the night. Many of these dining areas post menus online, providing students easy access to nutrition information and meal-planning.

Cornell University

Location: Ithaca, New York

Beyond offering their students an Ivy League education, Cornell’s dining options are enhanced by a very unique on-campus asset - a licensed dairy processing plant. Other than helping with research, teaching and extension programs, the Cornell Dairy serves ice cream, milk, yogurt and pudding (at the Cornell Dairy Bar). Just as impressive is Cornell’s dedication to supporting the community by purchasing 26 percent of their foods locally and regionally. The university offers 30 dining locations, open from 7am to 2 am, many of which offer culturally diverse and dietary specific options.

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