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Nutty Novelties

After a two-year effort to introduce healthier peanut butter to the residential dining halls, Alice Wistar ’20 can finally enjoy the fruits — or legumes — of her labor. Starting this year, all residential dining halls will serve peanut butter from Nutty Novelties, a company located in Telford, Pa. that does not add sugar or oil to its peanut butter.

“We are able to provide a really fresh product,” said Nutty Novelties owner Caleb Magnum. “The peanut butter in the dining hall now is no more than two weeks old.” 

“This product really fits the bill for us,” said Chris Lentz, associate director of marketing and community engagement at the University.

When Wistar came to campus as a freshman, she was perplexed that the University, which values sustainability and healthy eating, served Skippy peanut butter in its dining halls. Skippy adds hydrogenated vegetable oil to prevent the peanut butter from separating. But the consumption of this oil can lead to a number of negative health effects.

Research has shown that unprocessed peanut butter with fewer ingredients might be easier on the body to digest, according to Melissa Mirota, Campus Wellness Dietician. Mirota, who provides nutritional suggestions from the current guidelines and the most up-to-date research that comes from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, said that less-processed peanut butter had been on her wishlist since coming to the University.

Mirota got to know Wistar, who started working at a dining hall and became involved with Greening Dining, a student group that focuses on making food choices around campus more sustainable. There, Wistar met Lentz.

“I brought peanut butter up as something that could potentially be updated,” explained Wistar. “They listened to me at first, but at Campus Dining, it's hard to find a new product that quickly.”

Serving less-processed, fewer-ingredient foods, it turned out, had been a hot button issue for awhile. 

“This process had been ongoing,” said Lentz. “The challenge that we’re trying to address shifts over time. It builds upon things. Years ago, probably a decade or more, we switched to all antibiotic-free chicken, so the peanut butter is another step in this evolution.”

First, it was reducing added sugars from the peanut butter. Then, Campus Dining would look into reducing added oils.

“Coming into my sophomore year, they brought in Skippy Natural,” said Wistar, adding that she was disappointed to see that it still had added oil.

Wistar was persistent. She became co-president of Greening Dining.

“I found different people in the administration of dining and asked how they dealt with the issue,” she said.

Wistar talked to other colleges who served natural peanut butter and sent out a survey to the student body to assess how open they would be to trying a new product. Four hundred and fifty-six students responded, and 85 percent of students said they would be interested in peanut butter without additives. She brought her findings back to Campus Dining.

“We looked into every option you can think of,” said Lentz. “Anytime we introduce a new product, there are a lot of considerations.”

Grinding loose nuts, for example, introduces risk for cross-contamination because it involves direct handling of the peanuts.

“We have a commitment to reduce the exposure to various allergens,” Lentz explained.

Ultimately, Campus Dining made a deal with Nutty Novelties, which has a tent at the farmer’s market on campus, where Campus Dining members built a relationship with the company.

“The peanut butter meets Campus Dining standards on health, sustainability, and cross-contamination,” said Lentz, emphasizing that peanut butter is an important source of protein for a lot of people on campus, especially vegans.

Wistar was delighted.

“It’s awesome because it’s a local business, and we are supporting that,” she said. 

Mirota likewise sees the peanut butter change as a win, but explained that the alternative was still safe.

“Even though this switch of a new peanut butter has been a good stride in serving less processed foods,” she said, “as it stands, peanut butter, whether it is Skippy or Nutty Novelties, is still a very nutritionally dense food in that it has good source of unsaturated fat for an individual and a great source of protein, especially for a vegan population.”

Lentz expressed gratitude that there are students like Wistar who share their concerns with Campus Dining and work to improve the food it serves.

“We always want to hear what the students want. When there are ways that we can make good and satisfy what the community is looking for, we are open to looking at it and talking about it,” he said.

“I think it’s awesome that there are so many health conscious consumers at the University,” said Magnum, who added that the students made the peanut butter change possible.

Wistar is no longer on a meal plan, but she hopes that those who are will enjoy the new peanut butter.

“I won’t be able to reap the benefits as much as a lot of other student will, but regardless, this is a big improvement,” she said.

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