James Madison University

Dietetics Faculty and Staff Help Spread the “Local Love”

By: Sydney Palese
Posted: January 29, 2013

PHOTO: Competition banner Bright green apples, crisp and delicious, nestled in a basket next to deep red York apples. Fresh produce in deep greens, reds, and purples created a rich mosaic. Honey, squash and zucchini were also on the menu.

So what do these foods have in common?

They’re all locally grown within 100 miles of E-Hall, where they were served to kick off JMU Food Day’s first ever “Food Fight.” The event, in place to exhibit the first priority of Food Day, focused on promoting safer, healthier diets.

In order to get the JMU and Harrisonburg community involved, the Food Day representatives commissioned the help of dining services, local farmers and dietetics faculty. The Office of Environmental Stewardship and Sustainability also was a leading force in planning the week’s events.

Ariana Witt, who represented the Friendly City Co-op located on North Main Street, passed out small pumpkins and information about locally grown food.  Witt said spreading the “local love” is important because it is essential to reducing carbon footprints, supporting local ecology and improving earth and water systems.

Despite the name, the “food fight” was clean, cordial and fun for all. The premise of the competition was simple: The competitors cook up a healthy dish beforehand, and are then judged based on the taste, presentation, the degree to which it promotes a healthy diet and supports a sustainable diet.

PHOTO: Competitors in Cooking competitionDietetics professor Dr. Jeremy Akers; Jay Vetter, Executive Chef at JMU; and E. Valarie Ghant, the director of CMSS were the official judges of the competition.

To match the three judges were three competitors: Zinnia Cantrell, a freshman international business major; Lara Solokoff, dietetics laboratory manager; and Victoria Nuckols, a former professor in the dietetics department who now works as the fiscal administrator for the College of Integrated Science and Engineering.
When combined, each of their entries could provide the ideal sustainable and healthy meal consisting of an appetizer, entrée and dessert.

Solokoff used all organic and fresh ingredients to create a reduced-calorie Italian orange bread. Of course, there was more than enough for the judges, and the onlookers, who nibbled on the bread, wanting to savor every last bite.

The entrée meal crafted by Nuckols was an orange, ginger teriyaki salmon with quinoa, roasted red pepper and spring onion. The salmon was caught and delivered the same day it was cooked. The transport of the meal required several containers.

For dessert, Cantrell surprised the judges with a seasonal pumpkin cupcake, topped with maple cream cheese. The cupcake was not only healthy and sustainable; it was also a work of art. Handcrafted edible leaves adorned the pastry to complete the look.

Before the competition began, Paul Mabrey, a professor of communications and faculty advisor to JMU Food Day, prefaced the judging by applauding the contestants, saying, “Food is a personal part of us. It’s putting yourself out there.”

PHOTO: Salmon dishIn the end, Nuckols ended up taking the prize. In honor of her organic and nutritious meal, she won a $25 gift card to the Madison Grille, compliments of JMU Dining Services, and bragging rights for the year. All of the contestant’s entries will be compiled for an online cookbook compiled by the Shenandoah Valley Food Day initiative.

In addition to the “Food Fight,” JMU Food Day also held lectures on factory farming and how to choose and embrace the food we eat, as well as a benefit concert in Festival to help combat local hunger.

JMU Food Day, an offshoot of a larger grassroots movement, strives to uphold the five priorities of the movement: Promoting safer, healthier diets; supporting sustainable and organic farms; reducing hunger; reforming factory farms to protect the environment and animals; and supporting fair working conditions for food and farm workers.

Though the official Food Day was Oct. 24, the JMU Food Day committee spread the events throughout the course of a week to promote each priority. Together, they teamed up with student organizations like JMU E.A.R.T.H and university departments like the Center for Multicultural Student Services (CMSS), as well as faculty and staff.

Laura Lorenz, a senior biotechnology major, brought Food Day to JMU last year, which was also the inaugural year for the Food Day movement. Her inspiration came from an epiphany that most college students face at some point in their university years – she didn’t know how to cook and needed to learn.

As a result, Lorenz went to the East Campus Library in search of cookbooks, and instead discovered a book that focused on the network of food. She said the book described the emotional, cultural and economic issues of food, especially in the Shenandoah Valley.
“I wanted to look at food in a health, environmental and economic perspective,” she said. “I realized I had to cook for my life”

Akers said that this way of looking at food is imperative to everyone’s health.

“Food doesn’t come from McDonalds, that’s the final product. I think it’s important that you understand that your hamburger doesn’t just come from a cow, it comes from the grass the cow was fed on,” said Akers. “When you’re able to understand where that meat came from, and the type of environment it was raised in, it’s really powerful. “ 

Akers also commended dining services for their efforts to make their menus more sustainable, noting that, “they’re very cognizant of the types of food they’re feeding students and they make them very healthy.”

His biggest piece of advice to students who want to eat healthy in a world where late night pizza study-breaks and processed foods are a diet norm is to simply be educated on the food they eat and always ask questions.

“When you’re buying a car, you ask a lot of questions you read the Carfax, you ask how the tires and brakes are. If they don’t give you the right answers, then you go somewhere else. Why can’t we do this with food?”

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