Only four months in and 2017 has already brought us a lot of change: Trump’s presidency, impending nuclear warfare, a semester full of lackluster grades, blended burgers. Unless you have been living under a rock this semester, you have probably heard that UConn Dining Services has decided to stop making 100 percent beef burgers and instead make 50 percent mushroom, 50 percent beef conglomerations coined “blended.”
The idea of the blending sounded good on paper, but it works poorly when implemented. With around 441 gallons of water going into making a one pound all-beef patty, according to a study done by UC Davis (while some studies suggest up to over 2,000 gallons, depending on where the beef was produced), blended burgers offer a way to decrease this number by up to 45 percent.
Secondary objectives include stretching how far beef resources go through decreasing beef consumption by only putting in half as much as usual and increasing vegetable intake because blended burgers contain more vegetables in them, which offer important vitamins that normal burgers lack and that college students often miss out on because their mothers are not around to tell them to finish their broccoli.
Blended burgers fail in two key areas though: taste and texture. It is not awful—for it could be worse: they could be 100 percent mushroom—but it is a far cry from the normal patties we are accustomed to. With each swipe into a dining hall valued at around $10 (based on commuter plans) and up to $15.90 for those paying out of pocket; with meal plans approaching $3,000 each semester with price hikes on the horizon, there is an expectation that is clearly not being met.
A good idea, but poorly executed. The 50-50 ratio is not working. In fact, in 2014 the Mushroom Council (yes, there is actually a Mushroom Council) conducted a study and admitted that “20 percent mushrooms is about the limit before the dish starts to taste too much of mushroom”.
What is the end goal here? In an article that appeared in UConn Today in February, UConn plans to “increase the number of fish- and plant-based offerings by 20 percent by the end of spring semester, while reducing the amount of meat on the menu by 10 percent,” which is great, unless you are allergic to both fish and raw vegetables (cough, me). While I know my health circumstance is by far not the norm, decreasing the amount of meat supplied to a population largely suffering from malnutrition seems counterintuitive, especially when students are not eating the new, “healthier” options.
In a conversation later recounted by eighth-semester undergrad Matthew Benedict, a dining hall grille chef told him that dining halls are only serving a quarter of the patties they used to. Instead of choosing these “healthier” burgers, it is clear that students are choosing to avoid them.
In the same conversation, the chef said that students are not the only ones unhappy with the change. Chefs like serving food that students enjoy, it is a source of pride for them. When they see students, more often than not, rejecting their burgers, it makes them sad. I remember many conversations I have had with chefs who have convinced me to take a dish they made themselves from scratch and remember their smiles when students would come back to tell them how delicious it was.
There is one thing we can do to change this. Benedict recounts from his conversation with the chef that the biggest influence in the dining halls is the students’ voice. Currently, there is a petition out that has garnered 422 signatures at the time of this article. We can do better. If enough students complain, change will happen.
Water usage is a real concern, especially with droughts becoming more common, yet the solution must be a thoughtful one. Dining Services should ask for input from the students they are supposed to be serving. The current solution is not working and a revision must be made.
David Csordas is a staff columnist for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.