The Research Vision

The Menus of Change University Research Collaborative is a culinary-centric initiative that brings chefs, food experts, key academic leaders, and innovators around a table of enhanced vision, dialogue, and sharing. Together, we aim to build knowledge and concrete applications to shift university food systems toward healthy, sustainable, delicious food choices.

The MCURC works to leverage the power and breadth of a groundbreaking research model, that enables us to understand everything from the most effective ways to reduce food waste, to the power of flavor-focused menu language to increase vegetable consumption. Our goal is to share those insights broadly, so that not only campus dining, but also foodservice leaders from a variety of sectors, can effectively transform the food system.

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: College and university students are tomorrow's leaders, parents, and citizens, and being able to shift this population's beliefs and behavior is one of the most promising strategies for building a healthy, 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 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’s research mission is to develop scalable, applied solutions to promote healthy, sustainable, and delicious food choices. The research pipeline currently focuses on the following areas:

  • Drivers of consumer food choices: Applying psychological, behavioral, and culinary science to promote food choices that are healthier and more sustainable.
  • Plant-forward diets: Utilizing culinary-centric strategies to transform menu concepts, including the Protein Flip, elevating plant-forward protein.
  • Food waste reduction: Understanding how to most effectively produce, promote, and upcycle food to reduce waste and drive operational optimization.

The MCURC has pioneered an entirely new model of behavioral research, which is:

  • Interdisciplinary by definition;
  • Characterized by a dual approach using operational research project processes that are inspired by the design thinking ethos of rapid prototyping, immediate feedback, and iteration, and aimed to enhance dining operations and services through program and process evaluation; in parallel with long-term, gold-standard academic 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, the 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.

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 MCURC research portfolio includes experiential research/applied analysis, procurement data analysis, behavior modification, and psychological, sensory, linguistics and marketing studies.