As the provider of food for the largest university in North Carolina, NC State Dining faces the everyday task of satisfying the nutritional needs of thousands of college students. According to Keith Smith, director of board operations, NC State Dining focuses on buying food that is local and safe for students.
“We like to source local when possible,” Smith said. “The most important thing to us is food that’s safe for the students, to make sure we’re getting it from reputable suppliers, and that the food is at the highest quality for the students.”
NC State Dining works with its main provider to bring in food from local farms. According to Smith, Dining was able to bring in 127,000 pounds of local produce last year, which was a 15% increase from the previous year. Smith said Dining is aiming for a 15% increase this year as well.
According to Shawn Hoch, senior director of Hospitality Services, Dining sourced 15,000 pounds of produce from the NC State Agroecology Education Farm alone last year and hopes to be well over 20,000 pounds this year to support the local economy and university research.
“By us putting pressure on our main provider to build those relationships with local farmers, then all of Raleigh benefits, so we actually open up the whole Raleigh network for local food, which is a positive thing,” Smith said. “We have a big impact on our purchasing power.”
A challenge with purchasing food, according to Hoch, is the short period of time in which certain produce is in season.
“The height of food production is late spring through early fall,” said Hoch. “You kind of get the peripherals of when students are here. We try to leverage seasonality.”
Hoch said NC State Dining has two primary goals this year.
“In the coming year, we’ll be really setting some more aggressive goals on sourcing locally and trying to improve seasonality,” Hoch said.
Within recent years, Smith said NC State Dining has made an effort to increase the quality of food in the dining halls.
“We went from cooking premade food to food that involves recipes and producing things more from scratch,” Smith said. “We went from having three chefs on campus to having 26 chefs on campus, and working with culinary schools to bring some talent into campus. We’ve also started the Culinary Boot Camp for the students to grow talent and help them learn how to cook as well.”
Smith said another focus of NC State Dining is simplicity and transparency.
“When we source the food, we try to be as simple with the ingredients as possible so that our recipes will be clean, meaning that there’s not a lot of extra ingredients, so that when the students read what’s in the food, it’s very apparent what everything is,” Smith said.
After setting standards for where the food should come from and what kind of quality it should have, Dining is tasked with bringing in enough food to feed the thousands of students that eat on campus every day, according to Smith. To keep up with the large number of hungry students, shipments of food are brought in every day of the week. The day after food is brought in, it is prepped, and the day after that, it is cooked and served.
“We do about 35,000 transactions a day, so it takes a lot of motion of food coming in and going out and everything for us to keep up with it,” Smith said.
Hoch said that NC State Dining not only tries to provide quality food for the students, but also tries to help them make informed decisions about what they eat.
“We want to make sure that students know what’s happening to their food systems, and knowing that their conscious buying decisions today will have some impact,” Hoch said. “ … Also taking better care of their bodies, making sure they are eating good things and putting good things in their bodies to promote health.”