Students enrolled in food and nutrition courses should have no problem garnering that enthusiasm, thanks to the $1.5 million state-of-the-art foods lab located on the ground floor of Doster Hall. The foods lab, which opened in the fall of 2013, gives food and nutrition students access to the traditional gas ranges and conventional ovens, as well as providing them opportunities to experiment with induction units, combi-ovens (a combination steaming unit and oven) and a convection oven. They will also have the smaller pieces that every high-quality foods lab needs – pressure cookers and fryers, mixers and more.
Former graduate teaching assistant Morgan Patterson, of Demopolis, said most students learn about this equipment in class, but they do not have an opportunity to work with it until they are in the work force. “Having this opportunity just increases their skill set,” said Patterson.
Human nutrition and hospitality management are not culinary programs. The courses focus on the science behind food and how principles of food preparation impact nutrient content, taste, texture and appearance. “Although there are ovens and ranges in this lab, we blend the science experimentation, which uses chemistry lab supplies like beakers, pH strips and titration equipment, with culinary applications,” said Dr. Kristi Michele Crowe, a food chemist, dietitian and assistant professor of nutrition at UA. “In other words, we teach how the concepts of food chemistry are used in the food industry to develop food products, yet the same principles are taking place in one’s own kitchen.”
“Understanding the science of food has allowed for an explosion of nutritious food choices with reasonably long shelf-lives,” Crowe said. “Without the understanding of the chemistry of macro and micronutrients and the interactions between them, dietitians could not adequately counsel patients on how to modify their diets for health and wellness.
Students can also utilize the new food sensory lab to conduct research studies. Meyer said the department has wanted to build that research component, but this is the first time they have had the facilities to do so. The audio-visual component of the lab brings a new dimension to the curriculum for the department’s online programs by having taped demonstrations made available to distance-learning students. In addition, students enrolled in catering and quantity food production courses have utilized the lab to learn operation and safety of commercial cooking equipment. There is also a food preparation course offered to hospitality majors. In addition, the UA's College of Community Health Sciences partnered with the College of Human and Environmental Sciences to create a Culinary Medicine elective which offers cooking classes and a follow-up discussion for medical students, Family Medicine residents and nutrition students on how to better educate patients about their diets.