Many students are criticizing a recent University of Connecticut Dining Services decision to substitute traditional hamburgers with blended mushroom burgers in all dining units.
“You get your hopes up grabbing the burger, but when you bite into it you are completely let down by the taste and texture of mushroom,” said Cameron Tracy, a second-semester mechanical engineering major.
Nigel Bilsby started a Change.org petition Tuesday night to “bring back the original beef burger to UConn.” It has received more than 250 signatures since then.
“It’s a great goal to have healthier, sustainable food, and I fully support that mission,” Tracy said. “The problem was that we had no notice of the change, and the change was making it a replacement instead of an alternative.”
Tracy is referring to Dining Services’ decision to begin serving the half-beef, half-Portobello mushroom patties at the beginning of the spring semester without notifying students.
C. Dennis Pierce, director of Dining Services, said the burgers were introduced as part of a larger goal to make UConn’s menus healthier and more sustainable.
“We want to change to a more plant-based diet. That doesn’t mean everyone is going to eat vegetarian, it just means that meat itself is going to be a lesser item,” Pierce said. “(We’re) looking at our menus and tweaking them and changing them so they have more healthy options.”
The blended burger is touted as a more sustainable option, as it takes 1,800 times less water to raise a pound of mushrooms as a pound of beef.
But while the new burger has half the fat, calories and carbohydrates, many students are not satisfied with the final product.
“It was a half-step away from mush,” said Jason Ciabattoni, a second-semester finance major. “It’s bad.”
Kristjan Maandi, a fourth-semester mechanical engineering major, was less critical of the new menu option than Ciabattoni.
“It was better than expected,” Maandi said. “(But) it tasted weird. I’d rather have a beef burger.”
Olivia Grossman, a second-semester business major, said that while she understands the rationale behind the change, it did not make a marked change to her diet.
“I know it’s healthier and better for the environment, but I don’t eat burgers that much, anyway,” Grossman said.
Maandi said that a better option might be to offer a combination of blended and regular burgers.
“Maybe just a couple days a week, having the regular burger as an option would be good,” Maandi said.
Dining Services is defending the change, saying it is a direct response to student-survey results showing a desire for healthier food options.
“We worked with a couple student groups to taste it and get their opinions and, not surprisingly, it got a very good response,” Pierce said.
But Pierce said concerns about the consistency of the burgers were valid, because some were being “overcooked.”
Dining Services decided to make the switch after hearing a presentation by the Menus of Change University Research Collaborative, an organization dedicated to moving American consumers, especially college students, towards healthier, more sustainable diets, Pierce said.
Despite the pushback, offering traditional burgers again would work against Dining Services’ goals, Pierce said.
“If we made it as an option, we’re not having the impact on the environment that we want to have (and) we’re not having the impact on students’ health we want to have,” Pierce said. “Any time you change something on a menu it can be kind of risky, but when you think about what we’re doing and why we’re doing it does validate (the change).”