Washington State University Pullman’s Dining Services has reinforced its commitment to culinary innovation by committing to increase its plant-based offering by 5% per year over the next three years.
The commitment will not only help Dining Services offer more plant-based options to the WSU community — it will also help employees meet their environmental sustainability goals and enable chefs to innovate in an exciting and increasingly popular culinary field.
Training makes chefs creative
To reduce the environmental impact of dining while still offering food students will love, the dining staff have worked hard to develop an innovative plant-based menu that incorporates traditionally healthy items as well as plant-based “comfort foods” that are indulgent feel, but don’t rely on animal products.
To prepare some of these foods, Dining Services attended a week-long training session earlier this month with professional chefs from Forward Food, the organization they are working with on the pledge. During the training, Dining Services chefs learned about the benefits of plant-based foods and received tips and tricks for working with ingredients like tofu and flaxseed. Forward Food also provided 10 “Basic Recipes” that the restaurant staff expanded and made their own.
“Giving employees the challenge to recreate things and seeing the lightbulb come on that this type of food can be really good was inspiring,” said Alice Ma, Registered Nutritionist at Dining Services. “It’s a great way for them to experiment and develop professional skills as chefs.”
The training allowed chefs to be creative, give them a better feel for the ingredients they work with and deepen their understanding of plant-based eating.
“This was game-changing for our chefs and our staff,” said Adam Koerner, associate director of Dining Services. “It has helped us develop more enthusiasm for making these plant-based options into high-quality, nutritious products that are sustainable for the planet and teach our customers good buying habits for their future.”
Chefs have come up with recipes for Impossible black bean tacos, falafel pitas, fried tofu chicken steak and several other dishes that will appear on dining center menus in the future. These new items aren’t just for students — faculty and staff interested in trying the new plant-based options can purchase meals individually at the meal centers or participate in the Mini Meal Plan.
commitment to sustainability
Dining Services has committed to making 40% of its menu plant-based by 2024. Achieving this goal will allow him to better serve the WSU community, which is increasingly asking for herbal offerings; Working with Forward Food to get there will help ensure culinary innovation and sustainability are part of the process.
“I believe it’s our responsibility to make sustainability part of what we do, and a third party helps us stay on track to achieve our goals,” said Koerner. “The promise helps us to go in the right direction.”
To help the restaurant meet its sustainability goals, Forward Food evaluates the restaurant’s purchase history and other metrics that paint a picture of its environmental impact, and then offers suggestions for reducing things like greenhouse gas emissions and water use. An important step to increase sustainability is to increase plant-based supply, Ma said, since plant-based foods have a lower environmental impact than animal products.
“Our goal is always to source our food more sustainably, and part of that is sourcing less meat and more plants,” she said. “The idea with the promise and us increasing plant-based options is that you don’t have to completely give up meat or other things that you like. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing.”
The Forward Food program, sponsored by the Humane Society of the United States, is calling on K-12 and high school institutions to advocate for more plant-based options in their dining centers. Visit the site to learn more.