Harvest Table Restaurant Group

More than two decades of work to promote local, sustainable and real food on campuses have transformed what it means to succeed in foodservice. It has raised awareness of the carbon footprint of meat and also how colleges can contribute to local food economies. But one thing has remained unchanged:  burgers are still  the most popular sandwich for students. Getting local and sustainable values between the buns remains one the biggest opportunities in foodservice.

That’s the challenge Changing Tastes is taking on in North Carolina along with the Harvest Table Culinary Group, where we are working in their college foodservice operations to make a dramatic change in what it means to cook, serve and eat a burger. 

Harvest Table is switching ALL of the ground beef used in every burger and many other recipes to local grassfed beef while also blending it with chopped mushrooms and other vegetables. In doing so, we’re using a proven, plant-forward culinary strategy to achieve a big local and sustainable food change. 

The “blend” has been used before with conventional meat and lowered the carbon footprint of a burger, with mushrooms also adding umami (instead of salt), texture and moisture to make a tastier and healthier burger. Grassfed meat has been used in college dining, but only occasionally and alongside conventional beef because of cost. Also, grassfed beef is healthier but has less fat, so some foodservice operations blended in more beef fat. Our approach brought the two together for some remarkable and delicious outcomes.

This spring, we’ll be serving these burgers to students on campuses served by Harvest Table across North Carolina. We will also be measuring and evaluating everything in our trial:  nutrition, environmental impact, local economic benefit, student satisfaction and kitchen operations. We want to know what works and what doesn’t. And, as we see results, we’ll share them with other colleges foodservice operations to help them make the switch.