March 3, 2014

Cornell Dining team follows special diets for next five days

Gluten Free team at salad bar
Lindsay France/University Photography
Cornell Dining staff members from the "Gluten Free" team sample the variety of food options available at the North Star Dining Room in Appel Commons March 3.

If you need to follow a special diet, Cornell Dining can meet your needs. But navigating the system to get what you need might be a challenge. Dining staff members are going to walk in your shoes for a week to see what it’s like.

From Monday, March 3, through Friday, March 7, teams of Cornell Dining managers, chefs and staff members will eat breakfast, lunch and dinner each day at campus eateries while adhering to one of six diets: vegetarian, vegan, kosher, dairy-free, gluten-free and both dairy- and gluten-free. Each team will be led by a senior manager and will eat at different facilities over the course of the week. They will blog about their experience in the “5 Days” challenge at blogs.cornell.edu/5days.

According to Gail Finan, director of dining services, “5 Days” was inspired by the growing number of students who follow restricted diets, whether for health, religious or ethical reasons, or due to food allergies. “We’re seeing a lot more food allergies in the younger generation,” noted Michele Lefebvre, director of nutrition management. In particular, more people are gluten intolerant.

“We want all of our customers to have a wide variety of healthy and delicious dining options to choose from every day,” Finan said. “Adopting a special diet for a week will help us understand the unique preferences and challenges of many students, and enable us to better meet their needs.” In the process, she added, Cornell Dining hopes to live up to its high rankings for food quality. The Princeton Review ranked Cornell No. 8 for “Best Campus Food,” and Colleges & Parents named Cornell No. 4 in “Top 10 Best College Eats.”

Cornell dining halls offer a variety of choices, such as gluten-free or meat-free items. Among others, you can get mock tuna salad made of tofu. Diners can pick and choose from the regular offerings, and the staff is always ready to prepare special items on request, Lefebvre said, noting that staff members have been trained to deal with food allergies. A certified kosher facility is located on West Campus, with separate kitchens for meat and dairy. Food prepared there is sent daily to Appel Commons.

More than 30 chefs, dining managers, staff members and students have signed up to join one of the six “5 Days” teams. Team members will share photographs, meal descriptions, recipe ideas and daily successes and struggles on the “5 Days” blog. Prizes will be awarded for the most creative blog post, best meal description and best photo.

The effort has been timed to coincide with the designation of March as National Nutrition Month.

“I’m on the vegan team, and I think it’s going to be extremely challenging to have no meat or dairy for five days,” said Steven Miller, director of culinary operations. “But I know this experience will help me better appreciate what options are available to our vegan customers, as well as give me ideas for new vegan offerings.”

Cornell community members are invited to follow the “5 Days” challenge and post ideas and feedback on the blog or at Twitter.com/CornellDining and Facebook.com/CornellDining.