Rose House Dining Room's "Steamed Mussels in Thai Green Curry” dish. (Margaret Chan/Sun Contributor)

April 28, 2021

Where Does Dining Hall Fish Come From?

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Seafood is probably my favorite type of food to eat. When I first came to Cornell, I didn’t know if the dining halls served seafood at all, or if it was any good. Luckily, I found that I could get seafood on campus about once a week and with a decent variety. In dining halls and in other campus eateries, I’ve had shrimp, mussels, salmon, cod and even poke. In the last week, at least one West Campus dining hall had some type of seafood on their menu four out of seven days. 

With Ithaca being at least a five hour drive from the nearest ocean, I wondered where the fish served in on-campus eateries was sourced. I was pleasantly surprised when I found out that Cornell was the first Ivy to be certified by the Marine Stewardship Council for serving sustainable seafood in 2012. A large part of this certification includes sourcing seafood from fisheries that meet a certain level of sustainability. 

Just a few years ago, Cornell Dining began a partnership with Red’s Best, a network of sustainable fishermen in the Boston area, to source seafood. “[The partnership] allows us to track each serving all the way back to the boat that caught it,” said Karen Brown, senior director of campus life marketing and communications. 

Cornell Dining’s new food distributor, Performance Food Group, also provides “smart choices of fresh-frozen and refreshed (frozen then thawed for sale) fish,” said Brown. In almost all cases, frozen fish is able to retain the same nutrients as fresh fish and even the same flavor profile. Frozen fish also has the benefit of being much more affordable than freshly caught fish, a factor which I’m sure comes into play when serving fish to thousands of hungry students in a dining hall.  

Because being on a meal plan limits the food options students have, it’s comforting to know that Cornell Dining is making good, sustainable sourcing decisions on students’ behalf. “Many people do appreciate that we’re going to the extra effort and often extra expense to responsibly and sustainably source our fruits, vegetables, fish and seafood,” said Brown.

In pre-COVID times, my absolute favorite dish on campus was the miso salmon on Fridays at Straight From the Market in Willard Straight Hall. I would look forward to this meal every single week and fill my entire container with just salmon fillets. While the salmon was a constant every week at Straight From the Market, I felt disappointed to never encounter salmon at any dining hall.

Just last week, I had dinner at Rose House Dining Room and tried the “Steamed Mussels in Thai Green Curry” dish. While I couldn’t taste much of the mussels’ flavor through the sweetness of the curry, the mussels were well cooked and I was generally satisfied. Mostly, I was impressed that mussels were being served in the first place, and in such large quantities. I even asked the dining worker for extra and they happily obliged.  

Despite the availability of seafood in dining halls, some fish-loving students still don’t reach for those dishes. While impressed by Cornell Dining’s vegetarian and vegan options, Kayla Bouazouni ’22, a student manager at Rose House Dining Room, remains dissatisfied with the seafood dishes in comparison. “I think Cornell Dining has a lot to offer, but seafood is not one of their strong suits. Pretty bland to be honest,” Bouazouni said. 

Although the flavor profile in seafood dishes may be slightly lacking, it always brightens my day to find my favorite foods served on campus. It makes me even happier to know that someone is putting in the extra effort to find sustainable sources.

Margaret Chan is a Junior in the College of Engineering. She can be reached at [email protected].