Stuff the turkey this year

Professor David Russell, Founder and Chairman of the Russell Partnership, asks if the traditional option is always best?

Festive fun is gaining momentum on the approach to Christmas, the retail adverts are in full flow, pigs in blankets are leading the charge on menus and cold turkey sandwiches filled with stuffing are only a stone’s throw away. For higher education preparing for this time it is important and more complex than one may first think. Many students will be home for the Christmas period, however, the build up is a great commercial opportunity for university food outlets. This can be in the form of festive products or full blown organised feasts.

Is traditional right for all though and do turkey twizzlers reflect the cultures and tastes of our ever-diversifying student bodies?

In previous articles I have discussed the positive impact that dining environments can have on enhancing students’ experience through providing areas that act as relaxation, social and working environments based around a food offer. Much of this is driven by the strong café culture prevalent now in the UK and the blurred line between space for work and play. I also believe food and associated environments can drive integration of international students by breaking down barriers and finding commonality over a meal with others. Attracting international students to universities is financially beneficial to academic institutions and vital to share and inject different perspectives on the world into the student community. The diversity of the domestic student body is also increasing with many different cultures and religions represented in this group. With this in mind, it is a natural conclusion that all may not celebrate Christmas and even if they do, the food offer may be very different and dependent on location and culture – the traditional Christmas turkey menu may not therefore suit all. This is an enormous opportunity for universities to engage with these unique groups of students to find additional menu items and even production techniques. The Christmas holiday period can be seen as a time to bring groups together and there is no better way to do that than around a dinner table.

So what do different cultures eat during the Christmas holiday period? One interesting alternative in China is the eight treasures duck – a whole duck stuffed with diced chicken, smoked ham, peeled shrimp, fresh chestnuts, bamboo shoots, dried scallops and mushrooms stir-fried with slightly undercooked rice, soy sauce, ginger, spring onions, white sugar and rice wine…. Delicious I hear you say! In India, a mix of stews, roasted meats and homemade sweets are created and shared in large feasts with friends and family. From our work in Russia, Qatar, Dubai and Istanbul recently we have seen a growing Western influence in food brands and menus, however, still with strong roots in local cuisine and dining habits. Many students will come from many of these countries to the UK for education and a different cultural experience, so a slice of home food is always appreciated where possible.

For higher education institutions the opportunities to provide all-encompassing holiday celebrations for many cultures is a challenge yet exciting. Many alternative options can be produced to a budget and be commercially viable, but most importantly it gives those from the UK and all corners of the globe who share commonality at their chosen university, the opportunity to sit down together and share in holiday cheer, and perhaps even pull a cracker!


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