The Murray-Aikins Dining Hall at Skidmore College not only serves up an extensive menu of different foods every day, it also includes local produce and products in the offerings.
But this was not always the case.
It took a student organization called SNAC (Student Nutrition Action Council) to enlighten food service officials about the benefits of buying local and even using produce grown by the students in a campus garden.
Members of the council met with dining hall managers two years ago and urged them to buy more local produce and products, according to Carly Goldstein, a senior from New Jersey and SNAC president,
“We wanted more local and healthy foods,” Goldstein said. She said SNAC continues to lobby for greater nutritional awareness. The college has responded.
James Rose, Skidmore’s executive chef for dining services, said the student garden has provided the dining hall with more than 1,000 pounds of produce. The college also purchases many of its products locally.
“Students nowadays are very health conscious,” said Mark Miller, the college food service’s production manager.
The Murray-Aikins Dining Hall was once two dining halls but was renovated and reconfigured four years ago into a single dining facility that serves more than 3,000 meals a day.
Students have a choice of nearly a dozen food stations, most of them staffed by a senior cook or an institute trained chef and offering a variety of foods from diner fare, brick-oven pizza, to global items.
One of the more popular food stations is Emily’s Garden, which serves only vegetarian foods.
During a recent dinner session, Emily’s Garden was serving General Tsao’s Tofu with broccoli and brown rice.
This is a favorite of Martha Waterman and Orli Handmaker, both freshmen.
“You caught us on a great night, General Tsao’s Tofu is wonderful,” said Waterman, whose home is near Burlington, Vt. She said she’s a strict vegetarian or vegan.
“I’m not eating meat right now,” said Handmaker, whose home is in Louisville, Ky. She said she’s “on strike” and not eating meat because of conditions in the meat industry.
Both students said they liked the dining hall’s black bean flat wrap as well. Beans provide vegetarians with an important source of protein.
The nutrition action council recently invited food-guru Terry Walters of Avon, Conn., to visit the dining hall and discuss her “clean food” concepts, which stress balance and dark, leafy greens, whole grains, and root vegetables that are locally grown. Her book, “Clean Food,” is a holistic approach to cooking “with love and good intention.” (See www.terrywalters.net.)
“I was so impressed by the perseverance of the students,” Walters said. She said the SNAC members’ ideas for a more sustainable food system at Skidmore were first met with some “adversity.”
But the students continued their efforts, creating a student garden and finally gaining the confidence and support of the food service officials.
Walters visited the college’s North Broadway campus in Saratoga Springs in March and conducted a food preparation demonstration in the dining hall’s experimental kitchen.
“I led the demonstration but we [she and the students] were all working together,” Walters said. “Then we all shared the meal.”
The meal featured tofu kale lasagna, julienned beet, broccoli stem and carrot salad and lemony artichoke dip.
The dining hall, which is open from 7 a.m. until 11 p.m., has become a hub of campus activity since its transformation. Students often come to eat a snack in the evening (homemade pizza and subs always available) and study together. The dining hall has wireless Internet service throughout for the students’ laptop computers.
All freshmen at Skidmore need to have the full, all-you-can-eat meal plan that costs $2,200 per semester. Upper class students can have a dining hall debit card to purchase breakfast, lunch and dinner.
The public and staff is welcome at the dining hall. A lunch, which includes whatever a person chooses from the many food stations and beverage and dessert areas, is $9.10. Dinner is $11.24 and breakfast is $6.94.
Executive chef Rose said the unique things about Skidmore’s dining service is that the dining hall is open for so many hours, has its own vegetarian station separated from other food options, and every food station is staffed by either a senior cook or a chef.
Miller said more than 60 people are employed by the college dining service, which also staffs other food service options on campus, including Case Center. More than 200 Skidmore students also work at least eight hours a week in the dining hall as part of their financial aid packages.
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