Meals on Wheels: MSU's Eat at State food truck continues to promote local food systems

The Eat at State “On-the-Go” food truck continues to find success by using MSU-grown and locally made ingredients.

From the Eat at State Culinary Services (department of Residential and Hospitality Services) website.
From the Eat at State Culinary Services (department of Residential and Hospitality Services) website.

Recent visitors to the Michigan State University campus might have seen a large green truck with a metal awning protruding out the side, harboring the deliciously enticing smell of cheeseburgers in the afternoon.

Catch it at the right time of day and it was probably surrounded by a group of hungry students, rain or shine, eagerly lined up to grab a bite. This mysterious green truck is known to students and faculty as the Eat at State “On-the-Go” food truck, a great stop for lunch and, as some know, a great resource for supporting local food systems in the Greater Lansing area.

The food truck, opened in the fall of 2012, was a relief to students who lived in the area of Shaw Dining Hall which was shut down at the time for renovations. Culinary Services’ Corporate Chef, Kurt Kwiatkowski, originally conceived the idea for the truck but it wasn’t until 2012 that his dream became reality.

“When we realized we were going to have problems taking care of our guests during [Shaw Dining Hall] construction, we brought the idea of the food truck back out and we leased a truck.”

Though Shaw would reopen in January 2013 under the new name The Vista, the food truck would stick around. Today, the truck stops at various destinations each weekday (one per day) and prides itself on seasonal menus and “Special Entrée of the Day” meals continuing to serve the campus. The truck itself is operated by Culinary Services at MSU, a part of the Residential and Hospitality Services Department. As a result, everyday meals and weekly specials are available at no extra cost to students with a meal plan as part of a weekday flex option called the “Combo-X-Change,” something many students take advantage of.

“When the weather was halfway decent, we were serving between 250 and 300 meals just for lunch,” Kwiatkowski said.

“On-the-Go” is the first to emphasize its use of ingredients grown or made in the East Lansing and Okemos areas. The beef is “hand-pressed,” and straight off of MSU’s cattle farm. All cheese used on the truck is also MSU cheese, the same varieties can be found for sale in the MSU Dairy Store that has locations in Anthony Hall and the Union. The MSU Student Organic Farm also plays a part in supplying food to “On-the-Go.” According Kwiatkowski, produce from the farm is used whenever possible and available – even saying the spinach in their grilled cheese’s spinach pesto is from the farm.  Also from the community are the bread and buns, which are provided by a bakery, Breadsmith of Okemos that is locally owned and operated.

In 2013, the “On-the-Go” food truck was given honorable mention in local news service MLive’s “Michigan’s Best Burger 2013” competition. Later that year, the truck was honored by the National Association of College and University Food Services  and awarded first place in the “2013 best local food recipe” category.

The food truck has also added late-night hours, serving a few locations around campus for an after-dinner bite, an activity which serves around 150 meals nightly, according to Kwiatkowski. Though hours for the truck can be found on the Eat at State website and a weekly email update is offered, the Culinary Services’ Twitter handle, @EatatState regularly updates the community on the status of the truck, which is a popular resource for students on the go. As for the future of the truck, Kwiatkowski said the university is in the market to buy a truck so “On-the-Go” can be permanent. Concerning the future truck’s signature items, he said the concept of “global street food” is being explored while still keeping in mind the local food resources they currently have at their disposal.

Michigan State University Extension promotes the use of local food systems for your everyday food needs both in restaurants as prepared food and in your home. For more information on local food systems, contact a community food systems educator.

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