Started August 22, every Penn State student can enjoy allergen-free and Kosher food facility, provided by the independent kitchen in East Dining Hall. I recently caught up with Lisa Wandel, Director of Residential Dining, and Brooke Jodon, Assistant Director of East Food District. They told me that Penn State dining facility would always be dedicated to bringing more diverse of foods for students, living on- and off- campus.
The first concept is health. There are approximately 15 different options of food in the dining hall for Penn State students.All they need to do is simply swipe their student ID cards to get into the dining area. Every dining commons on campus provides vegetarian and gluten-free options. However, only East Food District offers Kosher-certified meals at a new station called PURE. Different from other dining halls, the kitchen will be under supervision of the Star-K Kosher Certification with Mashgiach Ronnie Berman, who “is the only one with a key to the kitchen,” said Lisa, “he opens and closes the station each day, turns on all equipment, inspects the food, and trains employees.”
The food provided by PURE station are free from 9 allergens: dairy, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, soy, wheat/gluten, and sesame. Since it not only provides Kosher food but also allergens-free food, students have all sorts of allergies can get the healthy and “worry-free” food.
The rationale for starting PURE is to provide Kosher food for over a thousand of Jewish students on campus right now and for prospective Penn State students. For most of the time, Jewish students do not choose Penn State because they could not get Kosher food here in State College. What’s more, Jewish students are dropping their commitment with Kosher because they could hardly get any in Penn State, especially for living-on-campus students. Therefore, Lisa and her team conducted research among the Big 10 universities to learn from their experiences. At that time, EFD was undergoing retrofitting and a new independent kitchen was built for allergens-free food project, Lisa thought that it would be a great idea to combine Kosher with allergens-free food together.
PURE is a one-year test pilot program. Food Services staff will continuously monitor the performance of PURE. If it grows by the end of this academic year, the project will attract more students choosing to come to Penn State over other universities. However, Lisa mentioned that if PURE does not do as well as expected, EFD would change it to just allergens-free stations, continuing providing students with “worry-free” food choice.
*PURE is open for dinner from 5 to 8 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, as well as brunch from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sundays, and it is open to the entire community, including students, faculty, staff, Penn State families and guests.
Another concept Lisa and Brooke mentioned during the interview was convenience. Not just PURE, Market East also provides fresh fruits, healthy snacks, Pennsylvania-based businesses, and commodities for East halls’ residents. Lisa told me that one of her goals is to constantly listen to feedback from students and make adjustments accordingly. There are around 4,000 students living in East housing and the Residence Life staff see an increasing needs of grocery shopping for on-campus students. Compared to other housing areas, East is relatively far from downtown, which brings students difficulty in grocery shopping. Hence, the Residential management expanded the convenient store, making it larger and providing additional freezers, more beverage coolers, and more necessities.
Now, students can get quality groceries inside of the East Housing Area, making life more convenient for students. What’s more, “students are looking for healthier choices, such as fresh produce students can keep in their micro-fridges and heat up in their microwaves. We’re proud to offer a wide variety of grab-and-go items and healthier food options, ” said Brooke.
It has been a few years since I lived on-campus. I am very impressed by the huge changes in the dining hall. At the end of the tour, I tried the dairy-free salted caramel flavored ice cream, made with chickpea juice, made by PURE station. It was very tasty. For a dairy-free ice cream, it was the best taste I had. What’s more, residential management team is really putting efforts in considering students from all different backgrounds. After having a tour in EFD, I feel excited about the future of on-campus dining.