Middle Earth comes to Virginia

middle-earth

A Hobbit Hole added to the event's charm.

It isn’t very often that university students get to eat literature, but at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, known as Virginia Tech, in Blacksburg, Va., they did just that. During a recent event entitled Springtime in the Shire, the dining services team brought J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic novel about Middle Earth, “The Hobbit,” to life—and to the mouths of university students.

Staying true to the novel’s characters, multiple “Hobbit”-themed dining opportunities were available from three of the university’s seven dining units. “The hobbits had really high metabolisms and liked to eat and drink a lot,” explains Bill Hess, associate director for dining services. “We had small-scale kinds of things for each of the meals, except for dinner, which was like our previous, very large meals.”

Beginning at 7 a.m., students sampled Lembas bread, also known as cinnamon raisin scones, and Egg in a Basket—eggs fried in toast. Elevensies featured fish and chips, a Fires of Mordor pizza and Dwarf’s Pie. Special tea varieties and finger sandwiches were served at Afternoon Tea. The evening meal featured some usual dinner menu items, renamed to align with the event theme, along with costumed staff, Hobbit Holes (homes built into a set), decorations and a live, three-piece Celtic band.

Virginia Tech has hosted fiction-themed events before, but Springtime in the Shire was the first one that was spread throughout the day, rather than contained to one meal. The event was a year in the making. The dining services team first came up with the theme, then designed and built props and finally prepared the menu and dishes in house. The team also had the help of Party Positive, the campus’ student alcohol awareness group, which sponsored a “pub” of non-alcoholic drinks and awareness messaging for the event.

The event was something that would have made Gandalf, one of the book’s wizard heroes, proud: According to Hess, dinner attendance figures came close to 1,400—nearly twice that of a typical day.

More From FoodService Director

Ideas and Innovation
vote buttons pins

On every other Thursday of our four-week cycle menu, we allow K-8 students to pick the entree choices. The media center specialist for each of the participating schools sets up the list of entree items on a computer for voting, and the winning entrees are given to cafeteria managers two weeks before the upcoming month to put into production. Students really like this, as it promotes ownership of the menu.

Ideas and Innovation
chalkboard

We highlight our North Carolina products on a large chalkboard in our dining halls, and also list any produce we bring in from our own agroecology farm. It helps tell our story—positive and local.

Ideas and Innovation
raised garden beds

We have raised garden beds that residents can reserve and use to grow their own plants. Whenever a resident brings me fresh produce from their own garden, I try and incorporate it into a dish. If I do end up using it, I will display the resident’s name and what the produce was next to the dish on the menu.

Ideas and Innovation
chartwells teaching kids

Curriculum for the mobile teaching kitchen centers around a single kid-friendly recipe, using ingredients that can provide talking points for nutrition, sustainability and food origins. “The recipe is the lesson,” Saidel says. “Every ingredient is an opportunity to talk.”

Earlier this year, Saidel, Perkins and Harvey did a student demo featuring roasted chicken and white bean tacos with greens and citrus salsa. “We can say, ‘Why are we using chicken instead of beef? Why are there some beans in here?’ You can talk about plant proteins and the sustainability and health message around...

FSD Resources