Amherst Strives for “Good Food”


College food has been a long-standing joke in America for decades. Cereal and mystery meat as low in quality as the alcohol the students drink have been continuous staples in dining halls across the country. In recent years, however, students have become increasingly more picky and health conscious, a trend that UMass Dining has responded to in a big way.

“There’s been a strong trend towards healthier eating and healthier lifestyles,” explained Joseph Flueckiger, the manager of Hampshire Dining Commons. In a survey conducted each year by UMass Dining, 80% of students asked for healthier meal options. Flueckiger says this data makes the decision to make the food better an easy business decision.

“If 80 percent of your customers are asking for healthier food, you give them healthier food.”

The transition to healthy eating in the dining commons is best illustrated in the newly renovated Hampshire Dining Commons, where they sacrifice low cost for quality. Their biggest move towards healthy eating was the controversial decision to remove all sodas from the dining common. Instead of sodas, which can be filled with unhealthy chemicals and provide no nutritional value, they serve fresh-squeezed juices at all times, along with infused waters and unsweetened iced teas. While this seems like a no-brainer health-wise, it is a major cost to switch. A typical fountain soda costs about four to eight cents per serving, while a fresh-squeezed glass of juice can cost upwards of 40 cents.

Ken Toong, Executive Director of Auxiliary Enterprises, explained that people were doubtful of the possibility of eliminating soda from Hampshire. They said, “you’ll never make it without soda,” he explained, “and we did it, with no problem.”

UMass Dining also attempts to purchase the highest quality product possible. Toong says they push suppliers to meet their higher quality demands, threatening to switch to a different company if their needs are not met. For example, after determining that the Hormel Premium Turkey they were using in sandwiches was still too high in sodium, despite being the highest quality the company offered, they switched to a brand called Old Neighborhood, which has 50 percent less sodium, but is also 50 cents more expensive per pound.

“We know [the ingredients] are more expensive, but we are able to save with cutting down on waste,” Toong explains.

To cut down on waste, the dining staff prepares less food far in advance of the lunch and dinner rushes. They have also reduced portion sizes, allowing for students to take more of what they like, but not waste a lot if they choose not to eat it. At UMass students waste about three to five ounces of food each meal, a figure Toong is proud of.

Another way UMass is devoting themselves to quality is through buying locally grown food.  In 2012, over 25% of their produce was locally grown, Diane Sutherland, the head dietician at UMass Dining, demonstrated on a graph which illustrated the increasing percentage of local produce each year. She explained that while foods are in season, they try to buy as much locally as possible.

This year UMass Dining received a $500,000 grant to continue to increase the amount of locally grown food they purchase.

According to Sutherland, UMass Dining also refuses to add and chemicals or MSG into any of the foods they prepare, and has removed all trans fat oil from the cooking process.

Toong says his main goal when he took over at UMass was to make UMass Dining the best in the country. They are almost there, ranking in the top three of the Princeton Review for the past two years.

Of his next goal, Toong declares, “we want to be one of the healthiest campuses in the country,” a goal they are also well on their way toward.


Turning numbers into people: The advantage of a multimedia piece

Emotion has always played one of the largest parts in a story. It turns words on a piece of paper into an issue worth caring about.

This is especially true for video, where the emotion is conveyed through sights and sounds, rather than just words. It’s what makes the audience decide to watch the story, what makes them continue digesting the piece, and finally, what keeps the story on their mind long after the video is done playing.  It turns John Doe, 67, of Amherst, Mass. into a living breathing person with a tear in their eye, instead of being just another faceless source.

Sometimes, however, an emotional video piece can lose its credibility if it forgets to add enough fact based content to add context. It is often difficult to strike a balance between fact and story in a five-minute-or-less video. It might come off as insensitive to break up an emotional story with a voice over of facts and statistics, however, without fact or context, it is tough to call the piece journalism.

The emergence of multimedia journalism has made this balance much easier to strike. Take the New York Times‘ piece, Up in Years and All but Priced Out of New York.

The written portion of the piece gives an overview of the elderly housing shortage problems in New York City. It cites officials, includes statistics and graphs, and explains the reasons behind the problem, all while describing small snapshots of individual elderly people affected by the shortage.

It is not until we spend almost four minutes with 90-year-old Holocaust survivor Bella Hornung, that the emotion behind the issue comes out.

The video of Bella does very little to explain the greater problem of the lack of elderly housing in the city. Instead, it highlighted the relationship between grandparent and grandchild, reminding each viewer that it could just as easily be their grandparent being displaced. It provided a detailed story of a woman who has been through more in her life than most, a woman who wants to live out her days near her family without moving around again. A woman who deserves the basic right of housing, but is currently fighting to get just that.

After reading the written piece, I see an inevitable problem as the baby boom generation gets older. After watching the video I understand that it is a problem that needs to be fixed right away.

The combination of the two media create a truly well rounded piece of journalism, complete with all of the desired aspects of a story. Could each piece have stood alone without the other supporting it? Probably. Does the combination of the two make the story an extremely fine example of journalism? Absolutely.