The Research Vision
The Menus of Change University Research Collaborative is spearheading a new research model that aims to build knowledge and concrete applications to shift university food systems toward healthy, sustainable, delicious food choices. MCURC works to cross-pollinate academic research that addresses the Menus of Change Principles of Healthy, Sustainable Menus, and that reaches beyond university communities to global opportunities for dietary change. MCURC is a culinary-centric initiative that brings chefs, food experts, and key academic leaders and innovators around a table of enhanced vision, dialogue, and sharing. This research agenda is built on:
- A unique collaboration between faculty experts and dining operators in universities from all over the country;
- Dining halls as living laboratories, allowing experimental science to bring far more advanced results in terms of applicability in the real world compared with traditional academic research;
- A potential impact that goes beyond the university food system: Colleges and university students are tomorrow's leaders, parents and citizens, and being able to shift this population's behavior is one of he most promising strategies for building a sustainable future.
The study of food—whether focused on the related areas of agriculture, the environment, medicine and public health/nutrition, food science, hospitality, business, psychology, anthropology, history, political science, or law—is often siloed within academia. Furthermore, not all of these disciplines or programs within which they reside are typically engaged with the culinary and business leadership of university foodservice. Food studies and food science programs that are emerging across the U.S. are starting to chip away at these silos. However, it is not yet standard practice for university efforts around food studies to be truly comprehensive, or thoroughly reflected in the food choices, menu development strategies, and procurement guidelines of their respective foodservice operations.
The Collaborative currently has three main research focus areas:
- Protein Flip--moving plant protein to the center of the plate and reducing the emphasis on red meat.
- Food Waste--how to effectively reduce, reuse, and recycle overproduction of food.
- Metrics--creating new metrics to measure change towards healthier, more sustainable diets.
The MCURC Research Working Group is the arm of the Collaborative that determines research priorities, develops the experimental design for each activated project, applies for research funding, coordinates research across multiple MCURC institutions, and communicates the key findings and insights gained from completed research projects within and beyond the Collaborative.
The Research Working Group consists of academic faculty members, chefs, and dining representatives such as dining directors, sustainability managers, and directors of campus nutrition programs. The Research Working Group is able to fully utilize campus dining halls as living laboratories to create practical outcomes and behavior change related to healthier, more sustainable eating patterns.
The MCURC is building an entirely new model of research, which is:
- Interdisciplinary by definition;
- Characterized by a dual approach using fast-paced project processes that are inspired by the design thinking ethos of rapid prototyping, immediate feedback, and iteration; in parallel with long term, gold-standard research aimed to be published in peer-reviewed journals;
- Continuously evaluated based on impact and feasibility in campus dining environments.The research is also based on an alignment of incentives: Because it brings together foodservice professionals and academic faculty, MCURC’s research seeks to answer questions that integrate the currency of academia--journal publications--with the currency of dining directors, campus executive chefs, and senior university administrators, of student satisfaction while achieving their business goals and objectives. In other words, the research is unique in that it is informed by the real-life business needs of campus dining departments. Traditional research has not been able to provide the unique solutions that are able to transform a university’s dining enterprises. The MCURC research portfolio includes experiential research/applied analysis, procurement data analysis, behavior modification, and psychological, sensory, linguistics and marketing studies.