Lebanon Valley College (E.A.T. Research Group)

The E.A.T. Research Group

Is it possible to transform the college dining hall into a shared research laboratory for learning, experimentation, and the exchange of ideas? This question allowed Dr. Robert Valgenti, a professor of philosophy at Lebanon Valley College, Bill Allman, then General Manger of Metz Culinary at LVC, and John Hopewell, Metz’s head chef, to turn their occasional collaborations into an academic program that aims to transform the dining culture at their small, liberal arts college. The E.A.T. (Engage, Analyze, Transform) Research Group is an undergraduate program designed to help students develop year-long research projects in collaboration with the college’s dining service provider. During the summer of 2013, through the aid of a college-wide innovation grant, the program’s first four students met with Dr. Valgenti, the Metz staff, and several guest advisors to develop a mission statement and an academic plan. Those first four students created a food waste reduction program (still in effect today), surveyed student attitudes about the dining hall’s sustainability efforts, started a featured food of the week program, and highlighted student-inspired menu items from their various cultural backgrounds. Five years and twenty-five projects later, the dining hall at LVC has become central to the vision of the college’s strategic plan and the goals of the MCURC.

Snapshot

  • Project Coordinator: Dr. Robert Valgenti, Professor of Philosophy (valgenti@lvc.edu) 
  • Participants: Dining Services, Faculty, Undergraduate Students 
  • Dining Service Provider: Outside Contractor (Metz Culinary Management) 
  • Timeframe: Ongoing, year-long projects within student/instructor course load that are supported and promoted by the dining service team
  • Funding: Dining Service Operations, Internal Grant

MOC Principles Engaged

  • 1. Be Transparent about Sourcing and Preparation
  • 4. Leverage Globally Inspired, Plant-Forward Culinary Strategies
  • 5. Focus on Whole, Minimally Processed Foods
  • 6. Grow Everyday Options, while Honoring Special Occasion Traditions
  • 7. Promote Health and Sustainability through Inspiring Menus
  • 9. Celebrate Cultural Diversity and Discovery
  • 12. Make Whole, Intact Grains the New Norma
  • 20. Serve Less Red Meat, Less Often

Strategies for Collaboration

  • Projects are designed and implemented as a year-long, six-credit course sequence within the college’s general education program.
  • Project ideas are solicited from dining services (what are their needs, interests, etc.) and also from faculty and students who have interests that arise from curricula, class projects, service groups on campus, etc.
  • The undergraduate research group meets with the managers and head chef of Metz Culinary management on a bi-weekly basis to discuss project ideas, logistics for projects, and ultimate implementation.

Outcomes

Over five years, the EAT Research Group has implemented 25 student projects in the areas of environmental sustainability, food ethics, cultural awareness, and nutrition. Sustained projects include post-consumer waste reduction, a sensory taste lab, and ongoing nutrition efforts tied to the Menus of Change principles.

Challenges

As an undergraduate research group tied to two semesters of course work, it is difficult to recruit students from various programs who can dedicate the time and credits needed for these projects to be sustainable and meaningful .As a collaboration with LVC's dining services at a small college, it is always a challenge to find projects that address a need/desire in the dining hall, generate student interest/involvement, and that match the resources of the dining service provider and academic institution. Open channels of communication between student researchers, the dining service team, and the program director are essential to the success of any and all projects.

Links and Contact

A full description of the EAT Research Group, including past projects, results, assessment reports, news stories, etc. can be found on their Facebook page or on their blog page: http://www2.lvc.edu/eat