As University of Wisconsin-Madison dining halls continue to move toward environmental sustainability, a new burger blend with 70% beef, 30% mushrooms has shown up on campus.
The move reflects a trend across college campuses, where students are becoming increasingly concerned about what goes into their food.
UW-Madison has served a blended, or not purely beef, burger since last year but shifted to the Applegate Great Organic Blended Burger for its higher quality and halal certification, said dining and culinary services director Peter Testory.
"[The] juicier, more umami-flavored burger was a very easy decision," Testory said.
"While this is just a little change, to be 30% less ground beef per burger and not affect the quality and taste that a full 100% ground beef hamburger eater is used to is something that everyone can get behind."
The burger was launched this year and tested on campus in the summer before being fully introduced into the dining halls, Applegate Foodservice spokeswoman Leah Sbriscia said in an e-mail.
Dining directors at several universities have recently shown a greater shift in catering to students' desires for more transparency, Sbriscia added.
"Gen Z consumers have a more holistic view of the food system and want to know a lot more about their food, from sustainability and labor practices to how animals are raised," Sbriscia said.
"The response on campus has been overwhelmingly positive."
Beef production accounts for nearly half of the American food industry's greenhouse gas emissions, according to data from the World Resources Institute.
Replacing 30% of the beef in all burgers would reduce agricultural land demand by an area larger than Maryland and conserve as much water as 2.6 million Americans use annually.
Testory said blended burgers have for years been a mainstay in the food service industry. It's one way to integrate more sustainable and more nutritious foods into the campus menus without alienating meat eaters.
Student behavior and conversations with the Dining Advisory Board have made it clear that sustainability is a top priority for students, he added: "Every generation that's coming to us now, every new freshman class is more sustainable than the previous one."
For instance, the reusable container program that launched in fall 2018 as a greener alternative to packaging takeout foods has received only positive feedback from students, he said.
Starting in September, Housing, Dining and Culinary Services began a student-led initiative to repackage and freeze dining hall leftovers for a free student meal program to tackle food insecurity. The program, overseen by a dietitian, has regularly run out of its weekly free meals.
"One of the things [the advisory board students] always share is that their peers are interested in delicious food that is also sustainable," Testory said.
"They want us to carry food that is not only good for them, but to work with brands who are responsible stewards of the planet."