Mount Allison University’s students are eating better than ever these days, thanks to a food program that serves local produce grown right in the Maritimes. The university, located in New Brunswick, has also made environmentally sound waste-disposal practices a focus of its food program.
Michelle Strain, director of administrative services at the school, says before the Maritime Diet was implemented, student nicknames for dining hall food were hardly flattering.
“Student's called it ‘mystery food’,” Strain said.
Since then, Mount Allison secured deals with distributors who sell only locally grown produce, allowing the school to serve more food which tantalizes students’ palettes.
“It’s much fresher, people are happier with the food and we’ve had great feedback from students,” Strain said.
Strain says the university surveyed students in 2006 to find out if they would be willing to pay up to $200 per year more for environmentally conscious, higher-quality food. The answer was a resounding YES and since then, new surveys have shown the Maritime Diet program to be a runaway success.
“The food vastly improved. We went from 14 per cent student satisfaction in the dining hall to 86 per cent — it was a huge leap,” Strain said.
The majority of fresh food served in Mount Allison’s Maritime Diet program (about one-third of all food items) comes from within a five-hour travel radius of the school, though fresh fish is still brought in by ship from fisheries in Newfoundland. Food is prepared right in front of students and served market-style.
By September, Mount Allison’s dining hall hopes to go completely trayless — diners will get one plate, one glass and one set of cutlery — in an effort to reduce excess waste. “Scraping stations” – bins where students clear their own dishes to ensure more food waste ends up in the compost pile instead of the trash heap, were an idea proposed by students.
“Our students do tend to be more environmentally conscious. We do have a history of students and environmental activism. It’s very grassroots,” Strain said.
The stations have reduced post-consumer food waste at the school by 44 per cent since being introduced last September.
Along with the gastronomic benefits of eating fresher food, the Mount Allison dining hall also recently introduced a program where dining hall staff cooks dishes to order based on students’ particular tastes: students bring family recipes to the dining staff who do their best to cook the dishes to specification. Though currently only an occasional treat, Mount Allison hopes to expand the program soon.
The success of the new food program hasn’t just been a hit with students – apparently it attracts plenty of locals from the surrounding area too. “The dining hall is known as the best restaurant in town.” Strain said.