Robert Mayberry

Rodolfo Lujan, display cook at the Division of Housing and Food Service, inspects brisket Thursday afternoon. The brisket, although not locally raised, was served during the Homegrown Local event, which highlighted Texas food, at Kinsolving Dining Hall.
Photo Credit: Mariana Munoz | Daily Texan Staff

Heaps of brisket, chicken-fried portobello mushrooms, cowboy beans, cornbread, and macaroni and cheese filled Kinsolving and J2 dining halls Thursday for Homegrown Local. 

The Division of Housing and Food Service hosted the event, during which dining halls showcased locally grown, organic and sustainable food. Guests listened to a live bluegrass band while eating a Texas-themed meal, most of which was grown within state borders.

Since 2009, DHFS has worked to increase the amount of local food served on campus. The University allocates $8 million to DFHS for food each year. DHFS sustainability coordinator Hunter Mangrum said DHFS has increased the amount of money spent on these foods from 9 percent in 2009 to 23 percent today.

“We still have major goals to increase [the percentage] as much as we can as long as it makes economic sense for us and for our customers,” Mangrum said. 

DHFS has made changes to afford more of these food options because purchasing these types of food costs more than buying commercial products. 

In an effort to save money, dining halls now offer plastic wrap for leftovers instead of the more expensive coverings previously offered. Reusable metal utensils have replaced disposable, more expensive ones.

“We’re always looking for ways that we can reasonably change things from the status quo to move things more towards that sustainable goal,” executive chef Robert Mayberry said. 

DHFS hosts special dinners, often complete with music and a unique name, such as “Homegrown Local,” about once per semester. Dining halls serve local, organic and sustainable food options throughout the year as they are available, but DHFS hosts meals like Homegrown Local to educate students about the benefits from eating these types of food.

“A big part of what we are trying to do is educational,” Mayberry said. “We’re here to supply food and housing, but part of our mission is to assist in the educational process.”

DHFS considers locally grown food to be food grown within 300 miles. Buying this food supports the local economy and reduces the environmental effects of shipping food across long distances. Sustainable and organic food are also beneficial for the environment. Sustainable food is grown in a way that does not damage the natural resources needed to grow the food, and organic food is grown without being sprayed with chemical fertilizers or pesticides.

At Homegrown Local, pitchers of horchata, cartons of vanilla ice cream and pans of warm peach cobbler greeted students. While they weaved through the all-you-care-to-eat buffet lines, patrons could read the black square placecards that sat beside each meal option, explaining where in Texas the food item came from. Some of the options included mushrooms from Gonzales, corn meal from San Antonio, honey from Burleson and sausage from Austin.

“When we receive local products, it may have been picked the day before at most,” Mayberry said. “If we get it from California, it’s a week old at the least.”

Some of the locally grown food served in dining halls that night and throughout the year come from campus itself. Herbs from the campus gardens behind Jester and in Kinsolving were used in salad dressings at Homegrown Local. 

A group of students called Green Corps maintains the two gardens. Stacey Thomas, human development and family sciences senior, said joining Green Corps in 2014 changed her perspective on food.

“It’s really cool growing your own food and seeing other people eat what you’ve grown and it being the same or better than what you buy at a grocery store,” Thomas said. “I’ve been more conscious of what I put in my body.”

 

Photo Credit: Lex Rojas | Daily Texan Staff

Editor’s Note: Forum Editor Amil Malik sat down with Division of Housing and Food Service Executive Chef Robert Mayberry in order to discuss healthy eating on campus. 

Amil Malik: Could you give me some context about the dining establishments on campus? Do they all come under the DHFS umbrella? 

Robert Mayberry: Now actually at least five or six other entities on campus operate food service. I work with the DHFS which means we’re under both UT and the state. Many of the other food service outlets on campus are contracted. The contractors have the advantage of having multiple units. They’re good at managing price and managing profits. Food service is a tricky thing to do because you’re working with food, which is perishable, and you’re working with people, who can sometimes be difficult to manage — if we’re being honest. So the contractors take care of all that. They allow a department that may not want to deal the food and the people to cut that out by contracting it. 

But, in terms of DHFS, that encompasses all the campus living facilities and the food services attached to them. We have Jester City Limits, J2, Cyprus Bend, Kinsolving and Littlefield Patio Cafe. Then we have two kinds of services, the all-you-can-eat and the retail operations. 

Malik: Who decides where DHFS operates and where contractors operate?

Mayberry: I can’t really speak to all the other parts of campus because I’m not exactly sure who runs what. But each of the colleges makes their own decisions as far as the food services attached to them. Athletics has its own contractor, and the student union has a different contractor. I’ve been here for 11 years and that’s how it’s been. But mainly we focus on taking care of the students. Every time we make a decision, we ask what’s the benefit for the students.

Malick: Last time we spoke, you mentioned some of the new DHFS sustainability measures. What sustainability measures does the DHFS  have in place right now?

Mayberry: Right now we have some questions we ask ourselves before we purchase. Some of the criteria we follow, budgetary requirements permitting of course: Is it organic? Is it free trade? Is it socially responsible? For concrete items we question: Is it a recycled product? How does it affect our carbon footprint? 

Our purchasing director has done a really good job of following those criteria. And in the past, 23 percent of our compliance products — food and non-food  — are either sustainable, organic, or recycled. So it’s a pretty good number, and we keep shooting for higher.

Malik: How do you decide the menu in the DHFS facilities?

Mayberry: I’d be happy to talk about that. We have 13 chefs besides myself. I’m the campus executive chef, so my role is really support for all the other chefs and the unit managers. We have six different locations total. Each location has a manager and one to three chefs depending on the size. Menus can be similar in different locations. In a nutshell, the managers and the chefs collaborate to come up with the menus. We have a menu cycle rotate every three weeks in each location, which is a way to increase variety, with different items for breakfast, lunch and dinner. So you may have a couple thousand recipes for Jester City Limits that we rotate through. A lot of what we do is we have menus in place, and we’re always reassessing those menus for acceptability. If something’s not moving or if we have a request for a different kind of food, we take that into consideration. The factors we take into consideration are feedback from customers, what’s new and current, what’s locally sourced and sustainable. We think about seasonality — what’s in season. We are always making plans to improve for the following semester.

Malik: How do you manage the nutritional content of the food?

Mayberry: I think people appreciate more and more that delicious food can also be nutritious. Of course there is the exception of the high fat and the high sugar item. But more and more people are very conscious of where their food is coming from and what they’re putting in their body. Our registered dietitian, Lindsay Wilson, has done a great job. We work together when we are planning a menu. We’re in the same room at the same time. It’s an open discussion. There’s a lot of give-and-take and input on each side. We value the input of the registered dietitian, and I think she values the input of the chefs. If she finds something needs attention, we look at it. And when we design menus, we keep a balance in mind. We’re looking for healthy. We minimize the fat and minimize the processed content to keep food as healthy as we can while still having it taste good.  But again it’s a great effort. There’s a lot of input on all sides.

Then, once we land on a menu, that’s just the first step. After we decide a specific menu item, we look at the recipe. Then Leslie goes through the fat content. If there’s too much butter for instance, and we can cut back without sacrificing taste, we do that. Then we try to balance so that we have a vegetarian option, seafood, beef and pork. What else. Oh, yes, Lindsay’s done a great job of putting nutritional content online. We have nutritional content on all the food we serve along with allergen information. 

Malik: Thanks again for talking with me today. One final question: As the executive chef, what advice would you have for students looking to eat healthy within the campus establishments?

Mayberry: I’d say you should eat in the DHFS facilities. Honestly, we have a lot of choices. We reach out to students for feedback on how we’ve done. We have a huge amount of variety. I would recommend a student look online. All our menus are posted online. You’ve got great choices and have the nutritional information as well. We have vegetarian. We have whole grain. And we try to minimize the processed food. Check it out online, research and see what we have to offer.

Mayberry is the executive chef at the UT Division of Housing and Food Services.

As a frequent patron of Littlefield Patio Cafe, I have noticed a common lunch choice among the students dining there: pizza. For those of you who have not seen it, Littlefield Patio Cafe’s pizza is a sight: thick crust, dripping with brushed-on butter, and enough cheese per slice to cover a whole pizza pie. I’m not talking about a crisp brick oven, New York-style thin crust pizza. No. Think a slice of Texas toast  plus a cup of cheese dripping in fat. That is what you get in one slice of Littlefield’s pizza.

OK, I exaggerate a bit. But my point is still valid. College students’ diets are neither healthy nor varied. When I confronted some of my peers about their eating habits, most of them responded with something to the effect of, “Healthy food is not available on campus, and if it is, it’s expensive.”
But my friends’ complaints are not true.

Over the past eight to nine years, the Division of Housing and Food Services at UT has been working hard to provide more nutritious food in the cafeterias. The department has had considerable success.

According to Executive Chef Robert Mayberry, DHFS partners with the Sustainable Food Center to provide local, healthier meal options to students. For example, many of the vegetables served this month (such as potatoes, lettuce, and arugula) are from local farms. The boiled eggs in Kinsolving are organic eggs from Vital Farms, a local establishment. The tortillas are locally cooked, too.

Recently, DHFS has added a nutritionist to their team and nutritional information for menu items at Jester, Kinsolving, Littlefield and Cypress Bend are available online. The staff has also marked locally grown produce with special symbols — a Texas sign for local foods and a red recycling sign for sustainable eats.

In other words, healthier options are available, for the same price as unhealthy food, all over campus. Students just have to know to look for them.

Some questions remain unanswered. Why is junk food still available, and why do college students choose it over healthier options? If there is a crisis of eating habits on campuses in this country, is it the responsibility of the dining halls to stop serving calorie-and-cheese-laden pizza, or the students’ to stop demanding it?

According to Chef Mayberry, stopping the provision of healthier foods in the cafeteria is nearly impossible because “people have come to expect they can get anything they want at any time.” Such an approach doesn’t work when you are offered only sustainable, local eats. Even more of it has to do with students’ unwillingness to re-learn how to eat. Mayberry notes that students are reluctant to educate themselves on healthy eating. “A person has to want to change. There is just a lot of junk food out there,” he said.

How willing are students to stop eating junk food? Vivian Yee recently reported in the New York Times about how grade school students have thrown lunches on the floor in protest of changes toward healthier meals.

College dining halls do at times resemble elementary school lunchrooms, but if students on this campus truly want to shift toward healthier eating habits, they must distinguish themselves from third-graders and accept that the burden is on them to exercise their power as consumers.

Yesterday afternoon, while brushing butter on a pie’s golden crust, one Littlefield Patio Cafe employee paused to tell me that the cafe sells around 80 pizzas a day. If UT students are serious about increasing the quantity of “good” food available on campus, they must indicate so in their dining habits.

Malik is a Plan II and Business Honors Program freshman.