Last Thursday, the College teamed up with Forward Food to present students with three plant-based meals at Whitmans’ Dining Hall. Forward Food is an organization endorsed by the Humane Society of the United States that travels to hundreds of colleges, universities, hospitals and military bases nationwide to train chefs and introduce exciting plant-based menu items free of charge.
According to Astrid DuBois ’20, a student intern with the Zilkha Center for Environmental Initiatives, staff at the Zilkha Center were introduced to Forward Food in December at a conference in California. DuBois approached Dining Services with the idea of inviting the organization to campus, and, soon enough, Dining Services was on board. DuBois, along with Executive Chef Mark Thompson, Assistant Director of Student Dining Gayle Donohue, Whitmans’ Manager Joey McClain and the Whitmans’ staff, worked closely with Forward Food to generate new menu items.
For breakfast, Whitmans’ served a variety of dishes, including homestyle hash bowls, fiesta totcho breakfast bowls, oat and cinnamon waffles, apple cinnamon muffins and creamy quinoa porridge. DuBois said that some people came to the dining hall disappointed to not see bacon and eggs; the majority of students, however, came specifically to Whitmans’ to enjoy a plant-based breakfast and were delighted.
I attended lunch at Whitmans’, and everything was delicious. Some of my favorite dishes included the quinoa lentil salad, jackfruit pulled pork tacos, cauliflower fried rice, Italian sausage bolognese, sun dried caesar salad, carrot cake cupcakes and, especially, the chocolate avocado mousse.
For the most part, students who came to Whitmans’ seemed to be receptive to and excited about the new menu items. One student, Natalie Newton ’20, said she enjoyed the new eating experience that Forward Food provided. “I think the breakfast was super interesting,” she said. “Where I’m from, vegan food is not a thing, so it was a new experience for me. And I never had anything like the breakfast bowl.”
Newton also noted that the atmosphere felt especially fresh. “I would have [the meals] again,” she said. “The whole dynamic – everyone was so cheerful, especially for lunch and dinner. Everyone was super into it.”
The dinner menu was also very popular, with items including Israeli couscous salad, avocado black bean salad, ciabatta bread, mac and cheese, southwest wraps, garbanzo bean sliders and vegan quinoa pudding. All the items were meat-free and dairy-free, and several were also gluten-free. According to DuBois, all of the new menu items will be added to the Dining Services recipe books and will be used in the future.
Before the event, staff from Dining Services were trained by Forward Food chefs to incorporate plant-based meat alternatives and create dairy-free options. Vegan protein options include quinoa, beans, tofu, whole grains and nuts. Dairy-free alternatives include soy, rice, almonds, oats, tempeh and cashews, all of which can be used to make fortified dairy-free milk and yogurt products.
Dorrie Nang, the New England coordinator for Forward Food, said that the “idea is not to take away everyone’s meat,” but rather to introduce new protein options.
From a Dining Services perspective, McClain was fascinated by the creative recipes. He enthusiastically explained some new culinary methods he learned from Forward Food. These included tips like using the liquid from canned chickpeas to make whipped cream, meringue and mayonnaise. One particularly innovative recipe McClain hopes to try in the future is aquafaba meringue. “Aquafaba” is a fancy name for chickpea brine; by whipping together aquafaba, sugar and vanilla and baking it in the oven, anyone can create a healthy, dairy-free meringue!
Coming out of this event, McClain and DuBois both said that Dining Services plans on expanding the vegan options in the dining halls, especially for Grab and Go. And of course, Dining Services is also looking to add more delicious vegan dessert options, so stay tuned!