Washington State University kicked off the new year by hosting the Humane Society of the United States for a week-long virtual culinary training, during which nearly 50 members of WSU’s food service team learned about implementing plant-based foods into dining operations. The training also focused on how to roll out new plant-based entrees to maximize success and provided techniques for using plant-based ingredients to create cutting edge dishes that appeal to all the dining operation’s customers. 

The HSUS offered the training through the Forward Food Collaborative, which is an initiative supported by the HSUS and other organizations to use plant-based foods to grow a healthier, more sustainable food system. 

In response to rapidly growing student demand aligned with the unequivocal health and environmental benefits of plant-based foods, Washington State University’s associate director of culinary operations, Adam Koerner, also recently signed the Forward Food Pledge. In signing this pledge, WSU has committed to annually increasing its plant-based offerings and in return gained access to Forward Food’s entire toolkit of free resources, which includes trainings, environmental impact assessments and more.  

“Increasing our plant-based offerings helps us meet a growing demand and aligns with many of our goals and initiatives around sustainability, offering healthy and nutritious menu options and creating inclusive dining environments for our students,” said Koerner. “We are very high-volume and must be responsible with our purchasing and menu planning. By increasing the quality and variety of plant-based dishes, our goal is not only to add more options for vegan and vegetarian guests, but also to increase the frequency our flexitarian guests choose plant-based.” 

 “I think one of the best focuses of the training was the emphasis on perception,” said Alice Ma, registered dietician with WSU Dining. “Plant-based foods are already delicious on their own. If we highlight that rather than compare them to animal-based foods, we learn to appreciate the potential that beans, pulses, fruit, vegetables and grains have. It was fun seeing how creative our cooks could be in applying one base recipe to several dishes. In the end, everyone just wants good food. We can meet that demand without compromising our efforts to be sustainable.” 

Bobby Hodge, a cook at WSU’s Southside Café who attended the training stated, “Once I started this project my eyes were opened to the endless opportunity and variety of entrees that can be produced with plant-based foods that also taste great and are healthy.” 

Jason Patel, a culinary specialist with the HSUS, was one of the presenters. Throughout the course of the training, Patel shared his expertise on how to utilize plant-based ingredients to create a variety of flavors and textures for developing entirely vegan versions of popular dishes. Not only did WSU chefs, dieticians and administrative staff walk away from this training with a heightened knowledge and enhanced skill set with regards to plant-based cuisine; they also emerged with a toolkit of 15 brand-new recipes, inspired by some of their most in-demand menu items.  

“There is a bigger desire than ever for plant-based foods, and with that comes the expectation that it’s healthy, nutritious, but most importantly delicious,” said Patel. “We are motivated to bring that expectation to our customers. We teach food is food, no matter if from animals or plants... and because of that we encourage the chefs to treat food with the same respect and love to make their customers happy.” 

As WSU continues to incorporate plant-based options into its menus, one thing is certain: these actions will immediately benefit students and staff as high-quality, cost-effective and supply chain-stable foods continue to rollout. The Humane Society of the United States commends Washington State University for its ongoing leadership in this area and for its commitment to continually increasing delicious plant-based options moving forward.

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