UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Penn State School of Hospitality Management students and faculty members recently presented their research to an international audience without leaving Pennsylvania, thanks to the power of technology.
Students and faculty presented their work at the inaugural Interdisciplinary Research Symposium in Foodservice Decisions, a collaborative online event, on Sept. 21 with the Penn State Food Decisions Laboratory and the Center for Food and Hospitality Research at the Insitut Paul Bocuse in France.
At the symposium, doctoral student Victor Motta presented research about the main transaction costs associated with purchasing locally grown foods in Pennsylvania school districts.
“Interest in purchasing locally grown foods is increasing in public schools in the United States, although there is a gap in understanding the factors that influence schools’ purchasing decisions of local foods,” Motta said. “The main purpose of this study was to investigate the primary costs that prevent public schools from purchasing greater volumes of local foods.”
The main findings, Motta said, suggest that costs of local food, food safety requirements and availability issues are the main costs that hinder a school's purchasing decision of local foods.
The event gave Motta an opportunity to share his research with European colleagues and get acquainted with their work, creating connections for future collaboration.
“Presenting research in an international setting is pivotal for constructive debates, exchanging ideas and information sharing,” Motta said. “To see what scholars are doing in terms of research in different countries not only contributes to knowledge creation, but it also facilitates global collaborations in order to better tackle problems associated with supply chain issues associated with local foods, school nutrition, local economic development, among others.”
Amit Sharma, associate professor of hospitality management and director of the Food Decisions Laboratory at Penn State, serves on the Scientific Advisory board of the Center for Research at the Institute Paul Bocuse, an experience that has allowed him to explore research collaboration with his colleagues in France.
The online research symposium was a new opportunity to open up the research interaction between Penn State and the Institute Paul Bocuse through collaboration.
“Given our common interest, we thought such a symposium could offer a platform to showcase relevant research in this highly interdisciplinary field, internationally,” Sharma said.
Sharma presented research findings that indicate school lunch programs’ offering of fruits and vegetables could influence the servings of fruits and vegetables chosen by students. This research shows that schools need to be mindful of the number of offerings otherwise it could result in a decrease in the amount of fruits and vegetables chosen by students.
“We argue that these preliminary results could be explained by what is labeled as an overload of choices,” Sharma said.
The findings, Sharma said, could be relevant for school foodservice directors as they plan menus to ensure health eating through the consumption of fruits and vegetables.
David Cranage, associate professor of hospitality management, presented on the financial viability of food service operations either having their own produce and herb garden or contracting with a local farmer to grow produce and herbs for them.
“Many foodservice operations see a ‘farm to table’ system as a cost center, something that will cost more,” Cranage said. “What we were able to show over a three-year period by actually running a one-acre garden was that it was not a cost center, but a direct profit center.”
Larry Martinez, assistant professor of hospitality management, and doctoral student Nicholas Smith, discussed the importance of healthiness on employee attitudes and outcomes and bias in service settings.
“Presenting to an international audience was important as these issues affect employees around the world,” Smith said. “As more and more companies are considering healthy food initiatives, sharing information about the broad impacts of these initiatives on a myriad of workplace outcomes is particularly important.”
Hema Kesa, academic department head of the School of Tourism and Hospitality at the University of Johannesburg in South Africa and visiting scholar at Penn State, discussed the School Foodservice Programmes in South Africa and the challenges and obstacles to healthier kids. She also noted that school meal programs have positive, long-term benefits in the nutritional status of children, improving school enrolment, attendance, attention span and mental development.
The main objective of the presentation was to provide an overview of the foodservice feeding programs used in Johannesburg schools and to identify challenges and obstacles faced by the schools.
“Presenting to an international audience helps to promote the awareness of the food service challenges faced by schools, particularly in South Africa” Kesa said. “It also encourages the awareness on the importance of healthy eating among school children.”