Sustainability. Food Waste. COVID-19. College Closed.

One of our veterinarians asked how Kansas State University handled the sudden COVID-19 disruptions in their food service operations. “Did they waste much food? Was it donated or destroyed?”

We know all too well what goes into producing high quality, safe, nutritious beef and how satisfying it is to watch customers enjoy our product. The flip side is how disappointing it is to learn that research tells us that 18% of beef is wasted after it gets to the customer. In case other cattle producers are curious about how our university handled their food inventory when the volumes suddenly decreased, I spoke with Mary Molt, the associate director of housing and dining services.

“So Mary, how much food went to waste when KSU closed the dining halls?” Her reply, “Not much.”

She went on to say, “I am proud of our staff, and the food production and service system that has been honed for so many years. Having a central food stores for both frozen and dry stores was a lifesaver. Because of our staff, system and facilities we minimized waste to very little.”

KSU Housing and Dining is not the typical college food service provider. They use standardized recipes and cook mostly from scratch. They recently expanded their dry, refrigerated and frozen warehouse to have more flexibility to purchase food in season as well as carry an inventory for emergencies. They have longstanding relationships with supply chain partners, including our own on-campus Weber and Call Halls, and all of their unit managers are registered dietitians with a strong food management backgrounds. This may seem a bit old-fashioned as others have gone to “just in time” deliveries and eliminated expensive refrigeration and freezer storage. Others build their menu around many processed foods and manufacturer-prepared meats, with less use of commodities. Often their managers are trained outside of institutional settings. 

The K-State book “Food for Fifty”, published first in 1937 and still published today is a gold standard for quantity food production. You see, Mary Molt is the current author and her team knows how to rework leftovers, handle food safely, and minimize waste. They froze the fluid milk to use later in recipes such as mashed potatoes and sauces. They froze cheese, meat and bread. They immediately stopped the produce orders and worked seamlessly with John Wolf in Weber Hall to cut production. With still a few students living on campus, much of the remaining food was incorporated into recipes and served. The small amount of perishable products not able to be used was donated. There was only a small loss from products that had to be discarded. 

At the Beef Cattle Institute, we enjoy a great partnership with KSU Housing and Dining as we work together to help educate other college and hospital food service buyers about modern beef production.  Our common goal is to create more sustainable food systems based on science and research.   

Sustainable food service?  NAILED IT.

Mary Molt, Kansas State University Associate Director of Housing and Dining services has been a strong supporter of registered dietitians and their value to organizations. She is the past recipient of many prestigious industry awards including the Academy’s Medallion Award in 2013.
Kramer Dining Center is one of three student dining areas and contains nearly 60,000 square feet of state-of-the-art kitchen, serving, dining and retail space.

Take Care of those Cattle for Me

Do you ever wonder if the return merits the time and expense spent doing farm tours and education sessions for non-agriculture friends in the foodservice? We drive thru our operations and talk about how and why we do what we do, but do the participants give thought about us the next time they make a decision about menu planning and purchasing?

I’m here to tell you that they do. Last October, BCI faculty and staff hosted 11 non-commercial foodservice professionals in Kansas as part of our education efforts. The tour jointly sponsored with the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association focused on modern production methods and how they relate to questions their customers in healthcare and college and universities have about sustainability including environmental concerns, animal health practices and who is producing their beef.

One of those participants was Ryan Conklin, an executive chef with REX Healthcare, in Raleigh, North Carolina. I recently had a conversation with Ryan about how he and his business are managing the restrictions placed on them by the COVID-19 crisis. He shared that life is tough right now. He and his culinary and nutrition team are feeding the patients and workers. They even converted an unused public dining space to allow busy hospital workers to take home things they need for their families.  Staple items such as ground beef, milk, and yes, toilet paper, are able to be purchased.  At the end of the conversation, Ryan said, “Take care of those cattle for me.”

Another participant, Bill Marks with Hennepin County Healthcare in the heart of Minneapolis, Minnesota has also been coping with the virus. He also shared that his recent days at a large community hospital in inner-city Minneapolis are the most challenging he has ever experienced.   “People are scared to come to work.  Free meals are the norm, so the kitchen workers have more people to feed than ever.  You never know for sure what will, or will not be, on the delivery truck but we are figuring it out as we go,” said Bill.    

As he reflected on his time attending the workshop, Bill shared, “It was one of the best education events I’ve attended in my 35 years in foodservice.”

We can put names with faces as we see people in the trenches on national news finding ways to serve their hospitals and universities during these challenging times.  Agriculture benefits from these exchanges as we learn how to best support our customers and provide confidence in their food supply.

And don’t worry Ryan, you can rest assured in knowing our beef producers and veterinarians are taking care of those cattle for you.

KSU Beef Cattle Sustainability Fall Tour 2019 foodservice operators enjoying the Fink Genetics herd.

Generational Perceptions about Meat

Baby Boomers have different perceptions about buying meat than younger generations.  Based on a recent white paper, Generational Shifts, boomers believe that meat should be “kept on hand”. 

Since 2017, U.S. consumers spend more money in foodservice establishments such as restaurants, schools and gas stations than in retail grocery stores.  Choices about what to eat are expanding into animal production methods as we balance our diets and develop sustainable food systems.  A lot of discussion is spent defining what a healthy diet looks like, and where our food comes from. Information can be overwhelming as we read labels, and decipher how one product differs from another as we vote with our dollars to choose products that fit into personal value systems.

This week we have seen empty meat cases in the grocery stores as people are stocking up for coronavirus quarantines.  Will we reflect for generations to come, like the Great Depression, on how this pandemic changed us?

My Dad told colorful stories of life on the farm during the Depression.  Most of the stories always seemed to have a happy ending, as families and neighbors took care of each other and did what they could to make the best of what they had.  “We always felt sorry for the people living in big cities,” my Dad would say, “because they didn’t have enough to eat.”  Dad’s family didn’t have money or lights or indoor bathrooms like people who lived in town, but they raised most of their own food — eggs, chickens, milk and beef, vegetables from the garden, and fruit from the orchard. 

It’s 2020 and we see grocery store meat counters emptied as people scramble to stock up and hunker down for numerous days of quarantine.  Less than 2% of us are now connected with agriculture as opposed to 40% in the 1930’s.  Today the U.S. has plenty of food available, but an empty meat case as a result of consumers stocking up for more stay-at-home meals is something we have never seen.

Consumers are making choices about what to have on hand, and purchasing priorities are being tested.  Typical patterns of consumption are shifting and social distancing recommendations are forcing change like never imagined.   What will become the new norms?

  • Will we cook more meals at home?  Good way to control ingredients and portion sizes
  • Will we keep more staples on hand for emergencies?   Buy when on sale for best price; convenient
  • Will we be more aware of food waste?    Leftovers become plan-overs
  • Will we remember that beef is a compact, nutritional powerhouse with minimal calories?    Better for me
  • Will this bring our generations to a deeper understanding of risk and give us new lenses to understand how to best build a more sustainable and prosperous food supply?

People will always need to eat.  I wonder what kind of stories we will pass along to the next generation….

Sustainable Beef 101: Food service professionals

Recently, the Beef Cattle Institute (BCI) at Kansas State University (K-State) hosted 22 members from the Department of Housing and Dining Services’ food service management team to learn about beef sustainability.

The tour, “Sustainable Beef 101: Food service professionals,” was intended to teach non-biased beef sustainability information to non-commercial foodservice providers.

“With this information, the Beef Cattle Institute aims to develop long-lasting relationships within the foodservice industry so that there will be ongoing dialogue about beef sustainability which will occur both up and down the supply chain using current scientific information,” said Patti Dollarhide, BCI project director of beef value chain alliances.

Dr. Bob Weaber, professor of animal sciences and industry and extension specialist, discusses low-stress cattle handling techniques with tour participants.

Food service professionals are vital to the future of the beef industry. As a land-grant university, K-State has a unique opportunity to help educate its food service professionals on where the beef they serve comes from.

Tour participants first visited K-State’s Stanley Stout Center where they learned the differences in methods of raising and taste of grass-and-grain finished beef. Debbie Lyons-Blythe, owner of Blythe Angus Ranch and Blythe Family Farms in White City, Kansas, and Lee Borck, chairman of Innovative Livestock Services and Beef Marketing Group in Manhattan, Kansas, both members of the BCI’s advisory board, answered the group’s questions. The visitors interacted during a live demonstration of low-stress animal handling at the Department of Animal Sciences and Industry’s Purebred Unit. The tour wrapped up at the Intake Unit where Dr. Bob Weaber, professor of animal science and industry and extension specialist, discussed confined feeding operations. Tour participants were given the opportunity to make their own “cattle casserole,” using ingredients common in cattle feed rations.

During the BCI’s Sustainable Beef 101 tour for food service professionals, participants were able to make their own “cattle casserole” using ingredients used to make cattle feed rations.

Tour participants agreed K-State’s beef production specialists are passionate about both their cattle and their work. The participating food service professionals enjoyed taking photos throughout the day and sharing what they learned about beef sustainability.

The BCI hopes this experience will help K-State’s food service professionals be more knowledgeable when purchasing meat, and help their team be a source of information for campus consumers.

“Our professional management team was excited for the opportunity to learn more about the science and production practices surrounding the beef industry,” said Mary Molt, associate director of K-State Housing and Dining Services. “The continuous quest of ranchers, feeders, and researchers to produce the best quality of beef using the most sustainable practices was especially educational. The program has prepared us to answer questions about the beef we serve. The real-life experience of seeing beef production operations and hearing from so many professionals has given us the accurate information to respond with some authority to the misconceptions we sometimes hear.”

More tours will be planned in the future. For more information on these sustainable beef tours, contact Patti Dollarhide at 785-564-7461 or

Gordon Food Service Distributor Show: A growing appetite for product transparency

By Patti Dollarhide, R.D., director of beef value chain alliances

The food service industry, much like the cattle industry, is built on relationships. We develop a network of people we want to do business with, trade ideas with and eventually trust.

Recently at the Gordon Food Service (GFS) show in Grand Rapids, Michigan, it was evident that the company’s food service customers are looking for suppliers they can trust, including those who provide beef.

GFS took a big step to demonstrate they value their customers and suppliers by providing an attempt at product transparency with a new program called “Clear Choice.”  Each of their vendors, including beef suppliers, were asked if the items they provide meet the criteria for one or all of six attributes. If their customer wants to find products that have one or more of these attributes, they can now locate them with a quick sort of the GFS product catalog.

Attributes and descriptions:

  • Cleaner Ingredients, meaning one, several or all of the following “no’s” are met:
    • No artificial flavors, preservatives, sweeteners, thickeners or emulsifiers, color from artificial sources, high fructose corn syrup, MSG, trans fats or GMOs
  • Specialty Agriculture:
    • Certifications are in place for USDA Organic, Food Alliance or Biodynamic
  • Animal Care:
    • Certifications for one or more: American Humane Association, Animal Welfare Approved, Cage Free, Crate Free, Free Range, Global Animal Partnership, Grass Fed, Pasture Raised, Raised without Added Hormones, Raised without Antibiotics
  • Sustainable Seafood:
    • Certifications in place for one or more: Aquaculture Stewardship Council, Best Aquaculture Practices, Marine Stewardship Council, Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch
  • Ethically Sourced:
    • Third-party certifications in place: Fair Trade, International Farmer Direct Sourced, Rainforest Alliance
  • Environmentally Friendly:
    • Third-party certifications in place: Biodegradable Products Institute Compostable, Compostable and Biodegradable, EcoLogo, Green Seal, Made from Recycled Materials, Made from Renewable Resources, SaferChoice

Beef fits in five of those six “Clear Choice” boxes. (Sorry, we cannot make the grade for Sustainable Seafood!) No doubt, the descriptions of the GFS attributes will mature and continue to be reviewed.  Transparency is a journey we are on together. How timely it is for the U.S. Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (USRSB) to be working on six similar attributes, and put compliance targets in place to help our beef industry continue to improve. See more from USRSB here: Kudos to GFS for showcasing what their vendors are already doing, as well as setting targets for the future. Learn more about GFS’s Clear Choice program here:

Educational sessions were held in conjunction with the show. The BCI presented “What’s the ‘Beef’ about Beef, Health and Sustainability?” for healthcare, and college and university food service leaders as well as distributor salespeople. Participants noted they learned new information about the beef industry. Normally the message they receive is to reduce beef consumption. It was refreshing to have an engaged audience who learned something new as a result of the information.

Relationships –– what a pleasure to reconnect with industry food service professionals that I had worked with since 1995 and trust. This food business gets in your blood just like raising cattle. More than 20 years later, my colleagues are still asking their distribution partners to find quality products at a reasonable price, but now we also want to feel good about our purchases and what we choose to eat.

Food service customers are asking for more transparency. Beef producers know the answers. Let’s figure out how to translate them to the people who want to enjoy eating beef.


#FarmFoodTour: Changing perspectives

By Patti Dollarhide, R.D, director of beef value chain alliances

How does life on the farm look to those who are three generations or more removed from production agriculture? More specifically, to those who write about food for a living? That was my burning question before the 2018 Kansas #FarmFoodTour, sponsored by the Kansas Farm Bureau and Kansas Soybean Commission, and the reason I was so thrilled to attend the event. To farmers and ranchers, opening your agricultural business to people armed with social media skills and cameras could be intimidating, especially with the activity fall brings: harvesting crops, moving cattle, hustling to school events and more.

Consumer surveys tell those of us who work in agriculture it is important to connect with our customers and to be transparent about what we do. The Kansas Farm Bureau and the Kansas Soybean Commission made that possible for a group of eight women with expansive social media followings. The women, food and lifestyle bloggers and urban dwellers met, Kansas agriculture head on by devoting an entire week to see for themselves where food comes from and how it is handled.

Check out the hashtag “#FarmFoodTour” on Twitter and Instagram and decide for yourself if the tour had an impact on what the bloggers are now sharing with their readers. There are positive comments, aha moments and beautiful photography. Their photos show what our farmers and ranchers do, and what our consumers sometimes take for granted. Cattle, pigs, children, corn, combines, tractors, pumpkins, pasture flowers, beautiful fresh food and a lifestyle that is difficult to comprehend unless you see it firsthand. Those ladies left Kansas with a new appreciation for who our farmers and ranchers are and what they do.

Coordinators Meagan Cramer, Kansas Farm Bureau, and Jancey Hall, Kansas Soybean Commission, know the power of letting people first look, and then ask questions.  Meagan and Jancey recruited Amy France, a Kansas Farm Bureau Young Farmers & Ranchers representative from Marienthal, who shared the farmer’s view throughout the tour. She spoke from the heart as she talked about her own family, the economics of farming and the decision processes that are part of choosing how to produce food. I was ready to talk hormones, antibiotics, low-stress animal handling, concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), but the gal next to me wanted to better understand grass, hay bales and why a rancher would move an animal to so many different places on the same farm, let alone sell the animal to someone else.  Some lightbulbs came on for all of us during our three-day trek across the state on a Wi-Fi-enabled bus (a necessity for a blogger). I was amazed how they worked to develop their personal brands with their writing styles and photos they posted tirelessly. The bloggers were surprised at farmers’ and ranchers’ vast knowledge from  animal husbandry, advanced technology and marketing, to government regulations and politics –– and that they also take on significant personal financial risk.

A special thanks to the tour hosts: Craig and Amy Good, Good Family Farms, Olsburg; Derek and Katie Sawyer, Sawyer Land and Cattle, McPherson; Clint and Amy France, France Family Farms, Marienthal and Scott City; Lee Reeve, Reeve Cattle Company Garden City; Forget-Me-Not Farms Dairy, Cimarron; Matt and Amy Perrier, Dalebanks Angus, Eureka; and Scott Thellman, Juniper Hill Farms, Lawrence. The bloggers saw the passion our farmers and ranchers take in handing down their operations to the next generations and the pride they have in producing safe and wholesome food for the world.

More information:

Kansas Farm Bureau
Kansas Soybean Commission 

Good Farms Angus
Sawyer Land and Cattle
France Family Farms
Reeve Cattle Co., Inc.
Forget-Me-Not Farms
Dalebanks Angus 
Juniper Hill Farms

Patti Dollarhide is a registered dietitian and director of the Beef Cattle Institute’s beef value chain alliances.