The state of food in Illinois' biggest dining hall
👋 Howdy, it's Monica.
- Earlier this week I drove my daughter back to school at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) and checked out the massive new Illinois Street Residence (ISR) dining hall.
Why it matters: Eating in Illinois' biggest dining hall at the state's largest university serves up an illuminating taste of today's college food scene.
By the numbers: The full $77 million ISR dining hall renovation opened this year as the biggest non-military dining hall in the nation.
The sunny, airy facility feeds 4,000 people a day from 9 micro-restaurants, including stations catering to vegans and those with food allergies.
- Visitors pay $9.90 at breakfast and $12.57 at lunch for all-access entry — kind of like a younger version of Old Country Buffet.
Breakfast notes: I loved the bold coffee, vegan sausage, well-seasoned tofu scramble and hash with caramelized onions and red peppers.
- The bland scrambled eggs and zucchini, however, needed a lot of Sriracha, which is in abundant supply here.
Lunch notes: The avocado, spring greens, tzatziki, feta, roasted cauliflower and quinoa salad made me feel like I was dining at a fancy spa. And I actually liked the plant-based veatballs in marinara.
- But the "Illinois-grown" brown rice and boiled northern beans had zero flavor.
Some neat things that UIUC dining halls do for sustainability:
- Source local food and dairy.
- Compost and use anaerobic digesters to turn food waste into energy.
- Offer rentable takeout boxes to encourage re-use.
International observation du jour: My daughter's India-born roommate was shocked to hear that American college students often gain weight their freshman year, noting the trend is just the opposite in India.
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