Another Course in Nourishment
Last May I spoke to Jessica Tones, Dining Services Registered Dietician at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) in Pittsburgh, about Nourish -- a brand new allergy-friendly kitchen on campus. At the time of our original interview, CMU was the only known university with a kitchen fully dedicated to foods prepared without any of the top eight allergens and gluten. Over the course of the year, Nourish has been producing a variety of grab-and-go offerings available all over campus. Additionally, the Get Food app allows the ordering of food online or from a mobile device for pickup at Nourish. With all of these wonderful food-allergy aware initiatives on campus, I was eager to find out how students, faculty, and staff are responding.
Q: Overall, how has Nourish been received?
A: Nourish has been a welcome solution for students, faculty, and staff with a wide variety of dietary needs. As intended, Nourish is providing safe and delicious meals to those needing to avoid the top eight allergens and gluten related to allergies, sensitivities, or an individual’s religious or lifestyle choice to avoid ingredients such as dairy, eggs, or gluten. We have received great feedback from students who can now enjoy safe comfort food favorites such as pizza, burgers, and brownies. Nourish is egg- and dairy-free, which means that the menu is abound with plant-based options, such as the quinoa crunch bowl, chia pudding, vegan burgers, and even mac and cheese.
Q: Have you seen an increase in the number of students who report their food allergies since Nourish opened?
A: While we have not seen an increase in the number of students reporting their allergies, many students with food sensitivities have expressed their excitement about the menu. For example, a student with lactose intolerance can easily navigate any campus menu by asking for no cheese or a milk substitute; but at Nourish, they can order pizza, cheeseburgers, grilled cheese, and a variety of desserts without modification. These students had never been vocal about their dietary needs, but now many have communicated that they are grateful that these options are available.
Q: About how many students, faculty, and staff do you serve?
A: We average 150 Nourish transactions each week.
Q: Are you tracking the specific food allergies of students? If so, which is most prevalent on campus?
A: We only have numbers for students who choose to disclose their allergies through University Health Services. Each year, about 15-25 freshmen disclose food allergies or gluten intolerance. Peanut and tree nut allergies are most prevalent, followed by celiac disease, which requires a gluten-free diet. Our pre-college program serves about 50 students with food allergies each year, with peanut, tree nut, and gluten being the top allergies/intolerances.
Q: Do you know if people without food allergies are also patrons?
A: We know that most people who place online orders usually have one or more food allergies. The majority of food produced at Nourish is packaged and sold at a number of locations on campus, and based on our conversations with community members, many people without special dietary needs are purchasing Nourish grab-and-go items.
Q: Are there any new plans for Nourish for the next school year?
A: Developing recipes for Nourish requires time, research, and testing. We look forward to the summer months when we have time to develop new recipes. We also plan to modify some existing recipes to meet Dietitian Pick criteria, which will meet specific nutrient thresholds, such as sodium and total fat. To get more community members to try food from Nourish, we host monthly sampling events, as well as sampling events with brand partners such as Daiya. We plan to continue these events and include them in our AndyEATS event calendar, which often ties in with a monthly theme. For example, we will likely offer Nourish vegetarian sampling events through October, which is National Vegetarian Month.
Q: What is the feedback you’ve received on the quality of meals, taste, selections, and cost?
A: We have had an overwhelmingly positive response to the quality and taste of meals. Many people are surprised about how creative and delicious an allergen-friendly menu can be. Early on, we had customers expressing interest in having dessert options available. In response to that feedback, we worked to develop four new, allergen-friendly dessert recipes. These offerings include Sunbutter Chocolate Chip Cookie Bites, Marshmallow Cereal Treats, Chocolate Brownies, and Coconut Oatmeal Cookies. One student expressed that our coconut yogurt, granola, and fruit parfaits were smaller than the regular ones but for about the same price. They understood when we shared that the price point of some of our ingredients are higher in order to uphold the quality and safety of our menu items.