Sayonara mystery meat, Niman Ranch products pop up in cafeterias

Sayonara mystery meat, Niman Ranch products pop up in cafeterias

While there are many memories I look back on fondly from my college days, dining in the school cafeteria is not one of them. The words uninspiring and bland come to mind. Fast forward seven years, and today's graduates may choose more favorable attributes to describe their higher learning dining experience.

Working with Niman Ranch, UC Berkley, Wellesley College, Yale, Brown and seven other universities across the country are offering menu options that are innovative, informative and,  dare I say, delicious? The meat producer, which was founded on the notion that the better an animal is treated, the better the meat will be, is hoping to not only provide kids with tastier options, but also educate them on the importance of sustainable ranching and animal welfare practices. 

In the lunchroom, students will find brochures, signs and point-of-sell materials which convey the brand's commitment to animal compassion and small family farms and ranches. "It's about more than just selling a box of meat to someone," said Mel Coleman, vice president of special projects for Niman Ranch, when I spoke with him this morning. "Being in these schools is important because we're informing new consumers (and probably staff) about where their food is coming from and why knowing that is important."

Perhaps what's most impressive though is that as kids begin to realize what they don't know about their food, Coleman says they're asking questions about other items on their plate—and, universities are stepping up to provide answers.  

At UC Berkeley, noted epicureans such as Manhattan star chef Suvir Saran and Sacramento restaurateur Mai Pham were asked to design dishes using high-quality ingredients. Goan-style shrimp curry, lamb biryani, lamb burgers and Vietnamese pho and noodle salads now add flavor and flair to the menu. As a result, the number of students who buy the school's optional meal plan has jumped from 400 to 2,500, The San Francisco Chronicle reports. 

Schools and medical centers leading better food in cafeterias

But schools aren't the only places thinking outside in the box in the lunch room. St Luke's Boise Medical Center in Boise, Idaho, is also working to provide, local, seasonal and sustainable options including Niman products in its cafeteria. As part of its recently unveiled MarketPlace 360 program, the hospital sources many ingredients within 360 miles from the building.

Since launching the program, lunchroom staff say visitors commonly ask what makes the food taste so good. To show them, the hospital will install TVs in the lunchroom introducing eaters to local food producers.

When you consider that the organic and sustainability movements have traditionally been led by concerned consumers and retailers, to see larger institutions endeavor to provide healthier, responsibly produced options is truly remarkable. Hospitals and schools can reach shoppers that may have never entered a natural products store or thought about where their food comes from. 

When more consumers question and stop buying from commercial food operations, these operations will be forced to change their inhuman and environmentally degrading practices. That day can't come soon enough.

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