Understanding the Cool Food Pledge

By: Cierra Peterlin

Are you familiar with the term “carbon footprint”? We sometimes hear these words being used by companies, individuals and groups who are conscious of the amount of carbon dioxide and greenhouse gasses they are emitting into the atmosphere by way of their activities. In our world today, many people are looking for ways to lower their carbon footprint to help protect the environment. To reduce greenhouse gas emissions and reduce our use of fossil fuels, some companies are opting to utilize solar or steam power while some individuals are carpooling, using public transportation or driving electric cars. It may be surprising but even the food we chose to eat can play a part in greenhouse gas emissions within our environment. During my rotation with the University of Maryland’s Campus Dining I was introduced to the idea of “cool” food and learned about the Cool Food Pledge. As a part of their sustainability initiatives the University of Maryland (UMD) has signed on to the Cool Food Pledge which is a commitment to reduce the amount of greenhouse gasses that are emitted by the food they serve.

I wanted to learn more about what the Cool Food Movement truly is, so I spent some time researching and having conversations with UMD staff to fully understand it. After a valuable conversation with Assistant Director of New Initiatives, Allison Tjaden, I learned that the Cool Food Pledge is a commitment that organizations, businesses and communities make to lower the carbon footprint of their food production. As an initiative through the World Resources Institute (WRI), the signatories of the Cool Food Pledge are helped along the way to track the greenhouse gasses that are released in the total production of the food that they serve. 

“Members commit to a target of reducing the greenhouse gas emissions associated with the food they serve by 25% by 2030 relative to a 2015 baseline —a level of ambition in line with achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement. Informed by the pioneering work of the Better Buying Lab, our Cool Food team guides members through a strategic planning process to serve more climate-friendly food while meeting other dining-related targets.” 

The World Resources Institute

UMD was the first university to sign on to the pledge back in 2019. Other signatories of the pledge include numerous hotels, restaurants, hospitals, schools, other companies and even entire cities. 

Being part of the cool food initiative is a commitment, but it means you get support to help you meet your goal. With a list of the greenhouse gas emissions produced by various food items’ production, the WRI helps each signatory track their emissions. As part of the process for UMD to reach the cool food goal, they have been introducing more “cool” food inspired specials in the dining halls on campus. Because one of the biggest sources of greenhouse gas emissions among food is the production of meat and other animal products, plant-based foods are heavily favored in terms of cool food menu items. Allison describes how one of the major ways UMD is acting to meet the cool food goals is by making plants such as vegetables, grains and beans more of the focus of meals. She talked about how promoting greater consumption of plant foods rather than prompting less consumption of meat and dairy has been more of a positive and well-received approach among students. Other environmental actions being taken on campus include:

  • food recovery by student-led Food Recovery Network,
  • nearly campus-wide composting of commissary, kitchen, and dining room discarded food items,
  • using sustainable and local foods in the dining halls from the Terp Farm or other local farmers, when possible, 
  • utilizing eco-friendly appliances and cooking practices and 
  • featuring cool food specials in different dining halls weekly. 
A graph of greenhouse gas emissions produced from the production of beans compared to beef. Source: https://coolfood.org 

One of the dining halls, 251 North Dining, uses recycled steam in its dishwasher. UMD’s campus also boasts multiple on-campus gardens which provide hyper-local foods to the dining halls during growing season as well a few “green roofs” which provide a swath of environmental benefits! In UMD’s Sustainable Dining Plan, written by Allison Tjaden, food purchasing practices to “reduce the number of deliveries to campus in order to reduce the carbon emissions” from food transport are outlined along with the plan to “purchase locally whenever possible to reduce carbon footprint and support the local economy.” There are many ways UMD Dining is working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions of the menu including offering new, exciting plant-forward dishes for students to try as well as reducing the portion size of meat in existing menu items. 

In terms of food, cool food specials are a fun way to get students thinking about eating for the environment. One of the specials that was offered during my time on campus was a poke bowl, which offered a flavorful and exciting dish with a small portion of sustainably sourced seafood (in this case, tuna). Allison mentioned that the executive chefs and culinary team on campus have been having fun experimenting with creating these plant-forward plates. 

Symbol used to identify a meal that meets cool food standards. Source: https://coolfood.org

Overall, the Cool Food Pledge on UMD’s campus advances awareness of environmental sustainability as it relates to eating. Since eating is something that each and every one of us needs to do daily, choosing cool foods and eating for the planet can be a major way for individuals and the larger collective to reduce our impact on the environment. UMD does so much for sustainability on their campus. I see the Cool Food Pledge and the efforts put forth by the dining staff to reach the sustainability goals as ways to ultimately change the eating attitudes of the students, faculty and staff. I was inspired by the pledge and became interested in looking into the carbon footprint of the foods I typically eat. Going forward I am also personally making a Cool Food Pledge and I challenge you to as well! Setting some personal goals to focus on eating local foods, more plants, less processed foods and less meat is something we can all pay attention to in our lives. Let’s work together with the Cool Food Pledgers and each other to protect our environment!

UMD’s sustainability icon. Source: https://sustainingprogress.umd.edu/take-action-now 

Resources:

https://www.wri.org/initiatives/cool-food-pledge

https://dining.umd.edu/sites/default/files/2022-01/UMD-Dining-Services-Sustainable-Food-Action-Plan_Final_Oct-2012_1.pdf

https://coolfood.org

https://sustainingprogress.umd.edu/take-action-now

Teaching Through Stories

By: Erica Parker

Storytelling is a great way to engage an audience, teach a lesson and give people new ideas to consider.  While writing is a great medium to tell stories, it can’t always provide the same impact as stories told by mouth. As future RDs, we can use stories to engage our patients and clients when we give dietary advice. At the end of the day, if your audience isn’t engaged in what you’re saying, they are unlikely to implement or even remember any of the advice you have given them. Storytelling can also be used to help market ideas and yourself!  A popular way to tell stories orally is through podcasts. Luckily, the UMD dietetic  interns get some training and experience creating podcasts, which you can listen to on Soundcloud.  

The podcast assignment requires interns to create two podcasts during the internship, which can be about an internship experience, the intern, nutrition, or an interview with a preceptor or expert. The goal is to create a podcast script that can be read in 2-3 minutes and then record a basic podcast without music, using Audacity or another audio tool that supports mp3 files. The internship’s tech team provides interns with links to many nutrition or dietetics podcasts to help give them an idea of how a podcast works. Interns also get helpful resources that break down the process of creating a podcast and go into great detail on how to tell a story. One of these resources was the “The Ultimate Guide to Storytelling” on the HubSpot blog, which explained what traits make a good story. A good story isn’t just entertaining and possibly educational, it’s organized, has a relatable character, a problem and a solution. The article also explained how to reach specific goals with your story, such as getting people to act, fostering community and educating people.

For my first podcast, I decided to write about personal food budgeting, since it was something my husband and I had been working on for several months. When writing the podcast script, I found the HubSpot blog post very useful because it helped me to write an organized podcast script with a beginning, middle and end. I started the script with how much our monthly food expenses were prior to the budget. I then discussed the method we used to reduce our food expenses by creating a cash envelope budget for the month. Finally, I ended with how the budget method had been working for us so far and provided encouragement to listeners to try the method if they thought it could work for them too. The goal of my podcast story was to educate people and encourage them to try something that worked for me.

Once my script was complete, I practiced reading it to see if it was within the time limits and recorded the podcast using Audacity.  It was easy to do and I was able to edit the recorded version to sound clear and take out any awkward pauses I made while reading it live.  This assignment allowed me to gain a new skill in recording and editing a podcast episode. It also improved the focus of my writing.  I’m glad I got the chance to record a podcast during this internship and I look forward to recording another one in May!

Community Nutrition Program Promotion

By: Zoe Rosner

What does a dietitian do? Most immediately think of in-patient or out-patient clinical dietetic counseling, but not all registered dietitians work in hospitals and provide medical nutrition therapy. The University of Maryland College Park allows for interns to rotate with a variety of organizations and dietitians in the three major areas of dietetics: clinical, food service and community. Within the realm of community nutrition, a dietitian may work for the education system, nutrition assistance programs, food banks or grocery stores. My first community nutrition rotation was spent at Manna Food Center in Montgomery County, Maryland and the variety of activities I completed provided a well rounded experience.

Successful community nutrition program planning begins with a needs assessment. This process identifies the people in need and the types of help that will benefit them. Manna creates a variety of programming, most often involving distribution of shelf stable and fresh food for individuals and families residing in Montgomery County. 

The following programs are already underway at Manna:

  • Food for Families- Distribution of shelf stable items in addition to fresh produce and sometimes meat. 
  • Smart Sacks- Many students received free or reduced meals at school during the week. The program bridges the gap between Friday and Monday and provides food for over the weekend. 
  • Community Food Education- Accessible health education including cooking classes, wellness presentations, and chats with a nutrition expert. 
  • Breaking Bread- A program with the intent to “create space and intentional conversations to nurture dialogue around critical issues, such as race, class, and a culture of dependency, that create or contribute to hunger and food insecurity in our community.”

To provide the most benefit to those in greatest need, Manna analyzes data. This data helps them determine where food pick up locations should be or which schools should be eligible for smart sacks. While at Manna, I was able to compile data to determine which zip codes within Montgomery County are currently facing the largest barriers to food security. The datasets I looked into included the capital area food bank hunger heatmap (shown below), rates of free and reduced lunches amongst elementary, middle and high schools, covid incidence and mortality and lastly the number of individuals Manna is currently serving in the zip code. This data creates support for decisions of which areas to serve.

https://cafb.maps.arcgis.com/apps/webappviewer/index.html?id=a8702d0c6cab44e38688680c86ccf964

Once programs are created, promotion of the programs is essential. Program promotion to participants of Manna and the community is a major step in increasing participation. Promotion to community members, such as medical providers or those in churches/temples/mosques, who can spread the word to those in need is very useful.

Manna allows for providers to refer patients to ensure those in need receive services from Manna. Oftentimes an individual in need may not register for services on their own accord, but with the referral from a provider, they will pursue the programming. Educating providers on how to appropriately refer patients is useful in decreasing food insecurity amongst the patients. My partner, Erica, and I created a brief “How To” video for the providers. The video makes sure patients are being referred correctly and are prepared to receive services. Of note, the University of Maryland College Park dietetic internship has a relationship with an interprofessional education (IPE) clinic that serves patients in Montgomery County. Because the clinic serves many patients experiencing food insecurity, the video was useful to distribute to the IPE team. Creating content that benefits two rotation sites and works to solve a common issue was useful in understanding how community and clinical dietetics are intertwined.

My favorite aspect of the Manna rotation was working through the steps of community nutrition program planning. Learning about the programs currently in place and their goals, locating data for the programs and promoting the programs allowed me to feel confident in my knowledge of community nutrition. I believe having well rounded experiences within each major domain of dietetics is a key aspect of the dietetic internship. Even though I hope to pursue clinical dietetics upon graduation, I now understand how as a provider I can connect patients with community nutrition services.

From Farm to Pantry and Beyond

By: Brandy Leno

When it comes to the dietetics field, my heart belongs out in the community. My previous work and volunteer experiences have shown me that, and my time in this internship reinforced it. So, when I learned what my week with University of Maryland’s Green Dining program would be like, I could hardly contain my excitement. This program is part of UMD’s Dining Services to advance campus sustainability and to achieve UMD’s goals to become carbon neutral by 2025. Green Dining includes programs like Terp Farm, the campus pantry, and the farmers market. My time there may have been short, but it was packed full of experiences that kept me both mentally and physically busy. 

My partner and I kicked off our first day by working on Terp Farm, UMD’s sustainable farm which is located 15 miles from campus. The farm operates in all four seasons and provides produce to the dining halls, catering services and the campus pantry. We received a quick tour of the farm, where we saw what was currently being grown. At the time of our visit, the farm was producing tomatoes, sweet potatoes, and finishing up their okra crop. They were also drying and processing black beans that were grown on site.

After our tour, we went straight to work. Our day was heavily focused on the dried beans, which were still in their pods. We were tasked with using a large machine to sort the dried beans from the rest of the dried plant. Then we used a bucket and a fan to further separate the dried beans from the lighter weight pods. This was hard work that took all day and we barely made a dent in the greenhouse full of dried beans. However, towards the end of the day we were able to harvest some okra, sweet potatoes, and cherry tomatoes to take home!

My partner and I also spent some time at the campus pantry, which serves both UMD students and faculty. The pantry was full of dried goods, canned fruits and vegetables, fresh produce from the farm and even had the dried beans that we helped to process! We observed how the pantry operates and helped to brainstorm ideas for cooking demos and classes that could be held in their new instruction kitchen. 

The rest of our time with Green Dining was spent being active participants in two of their special events: the farmers market and pumpkin painting. At the farmers market we spoke with each of the local vendors and got to buy some goodies to take home for ourselves! The variety of vendors was impressive and catered to the student population. We saw them selling fudge, fresh produce, meat, homemade jewelry and more! The most popular booth was the bread vendor. The line was long for practically the entire market!

The farmers market also featured a cooking demo of a winter squash and black bean soup, which we helped to set up. We served samples when the dish was finished. As you might have already guessed, the star ingredients came straight from Terp Farm. The soup was vegan and free of the big 8 allergens, so everyone was able to have a taste. Next up was the pumpkin painting event. We helped to set up the event by setting up the mini pumpkins to look like a pumpkin patch outside of the dining hall and by portioning paints out on separate paper plates. Once the event started, everyone flocked towards the pumpkins. The plaza quickly filled with students, and we saw so many different creations. It was great to help support a community event using more Terp Farm produce!

I’m grateful I saw how one small two acre farm could help support several sustainability initiatives on campus. In just one week, I saw Terp Farm produce used to provide nutrition education, support a community event and alleviate food insecurity on campus. The Green Dining team is making great strides to uplift the campus community and the environment. I’m happy I experienced being a part of this team for a short period of time.

Bariatric vs. Traditional Weight Loss

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 42% of the United States classifies as obese. With the numbers continuing to rise, bariatric surgery proves to be a useful solution for some to achieve a healthier weight. Bariatric surgery is an umbrella of procedures that alter the digestive tract resulting in weight loss. The benefits of bariatric surgery include fast weight loss and a higher success rate of weight loss compared to traditional non-surgical weight loss. The downsides of bariatric surgery include a potentially higher cost (depending on insurance coverage), increased risk of nutrient deficiencies, adverse GI symptoms and higher mortality rate compared to traditional diet and exercise. Traditional, non-surgical weight loss typically has a higher failure rate and takes longer to see results, but also has more flexibility, lower mortality rate and lower risk of complications. I learned about various experiences and motivations for traditional and surgical weight loss at a recent rotation with Inova’s bariatric clinic in Fairfax, VA. 

In order to qualify for bariatric surgery, there must be previous difficulties with weight loss through diet, exercise or medications. Two counseling sessions I was involved with included women who had difficulties with maintaining previous weight loss but had the confidence in themselves to try again and find a method that works for them through the help of the Registered Dietitian (RD). One of those patients had success with short-term diets in the past but did not create sustainable healthy habits. Another patient’s biggest struggle was snacking and grazing throughout the day, with sweet foods as her biggest vice. She was open to change and motivated to alter her habits but did not know where to start. Perhaps these two patients believed in their ability to achieve a healthier weight naturally either due to previous success or self-confidence and just needed accountability to get on the right track. Another patient considered herself a “healthy eater” and described her weight history as always overweight her entire life. Further into the session, she revealed her biggest difficulties included portion sizes, chocolate, pretzels, brownies and high-calorie coffee drinks. Her lack of previous weight loss success despite having high motivation conveyed that she was not confident in the traditional route, but was determined to begin the surgical journey. 

Lack of basic nutrition education is common in people struggling to attain a healthier weight. The education and goal-setting requirements are slightly different for bariatric and traditional weight loss methods. Patients in the bariatric clinic often perceive their typical diet intake as healthy, so instead of asking what their normal daily food intake looks like, the RD asks them to describe what an unhealthy day of eating looks like. This usually depicts the reality of their usual intake more accurately. They may be eating foods considered healthy, but portion sizes may be too large. Once they have the educational tools and a solid plan in place, they may achieve weight loss with an overall healthy diet and exercise. Others seek nutrition education but have difficulty implementing the behavior change for various reasons, such as an emotional or physical condition. For the patients trying the traditional weight loss route to learn nutrition basics, I helped transform a plain, unappealing 20-page diet manual into an engaging, easily digestible manual. This project helped me develop digital design skills by balancing color, fonts and texts. For the patients trying the traditional weight loss route to learn nutrition basics, I helped transform a plain, unappealing 20-page diet manual into an engaging, easily digestible manual. This project helped me develop digital design skills by balancing color, fonts and texts. Some people may understand this basic education yet have difficulties with meal planning, budgeting, meal preparation and cravings. Likewise, their life may feel too stressful to undertake these challenges. One patient I observed in the clinic was a busy gentleman with children, seemed to enjoy following a regimen and was open to lifestyle changes. He knew that if he stayed with the bariatric regimen, he would be successful without worrying about the draining demands of non-surgical weight loss. Bariatric meal plans include daily protein shakes along with small, easy-to-prepare meals. The education with bariatric nutrition is more about following a simple and specific plan, whereas those who undergo natural weight loss follow a more vague and variable plan. This can open the door to “falling off track” and slowly going back to old habits. 

Sample from DIet Manual

Unwanted side effects that occur with nonadherence, such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhea after bariatric surgery incentivize behavior change. One patient I observed during a post-op appointment admitted to eating a bowl of sugary cereal and immediately throwing it up. Even though she knew she shouldn’t eat that sugary cereal, she had a strong difficulty with the impulse control of her strong craving. In this case, the bariatric surgery essentially caused a negative feedback loop to get her back on track by rejecting that food. Due to situations such as this, a handout about behavior change was needed in the bariatric clinic. I created an infographic explaining the stages of behavior change to help patients identify where they are at in their weight loss journey. Furthermore, it gives the dietitian an opportunity to visually show the patient their progress. Some clients struggle with creating practical individual goals, so I created a worksheet to guide patients through setting goals using the S.M.A.R.T method. This stands for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-based. Often if someone tries weight loss without the help of a professional, they may not know where to start. Creating the “Stages of Behavior Change”  and “SMART Goals” handouts enhanced my skills with explaining psychological concepts visually and balancing graphics with white space. 

Although it is not a risk-free solution, bariatric surgery is a great last-resort option to decrease risk of negative health outcomes if all other methods of weight loss, such as medication, diet and exercise were not successful in the past. It may be especially useful if a large weight loss is necessary, such as in the case of needing another medical procedure done. The bariatric team works with each patient to determine if surgery or traditional weight loss is better suited for them. The team considers the patient’s motivations and past experiences, such as previous weight loss attempts, nutrition education, and their stage of behavior change. Transforming a diet manual and creating materials on setting goals and behavior change enhanced my digital design skills while also helping patients at the clinic. Overall, my experience at this rotation was educational and provided me with insight on patients and their readiness for change as well as bariatric weight loss surgery. 

Reference: 

“Adult Obesity Facts.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 30 Sept. 2021, https://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/adult.html.