The food we eat nourishes us, but it can also make us sick. Food-borne illnesses and diet-related chronic diseases cost Canadians an estimated $1.3 billion in lost productivity and medical expenses each year. The most sustainable and cost-effective way to prevent and treat this problem is through nutritional intervention, which has resulted in a burgeoning demand for trained dietitians, nutritionists and food scientists.
The new Nutrition and Food Science teaching laboratories at the Faculty of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences on McGill’s Macdonald Campus are world-class culinary and product development facilities for training these sought-after professionals.
“All the equipment is new, state-of-the-art and it works well,” says Master’s student Susan Yang. “It’s the best out there.”
With outdated labs in the basement of the Macdonald-Stewart Building that were too close to chemistry, microbiology and animal facilities, the School of Dietetics and Human Nutrition and the Department of Food Science were perhaps heeding the old restaurant mantra, “location, location, location” when they found the new home for their facilities on the second floor of the Centennial Centre. “It’s a spectacular piece of real estate,” says Dr. Kristine Koski, Director of the School.
Now completed and operational, the new labs themselves are spectacular. Constructed in an open-concept style with four separate learning areas, the facilities include two state-of-the-art food preparation labs – one of them a large-quantity prep space – outfitted with commercial ovens, a blast-chill refrigerator and walk-in cold rooms and freezers. The remaining space features a food sensory evaluation lab for working with groups testing potential new food products, and a studio demonstration classroom equipped with large-screen monitors in which television programs and instructional videos can be filmed.
Philanthropy was crucial to the renovation and expansion of the labs, with funding from alumni making the project possible: in particular, the generous gift of the late Mary Catherine (Kitty) Freeman, BHS’41, whose bequest provided $1 million for the new facilities.
Other gifts have since poured in, including support from Dr. Joy MacLaren, BSc(HEc)’44, LLD’00, a bequest from the late Lucille Millard, and reunion gifts from Faculty of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences Classes of 1952, 1956 and 1959.
The impact of this philanthropy is substantial. The facilities open up new opportunities for partnering with the food industry and ensure that Macdonald Campus continues to play a leadership role in human nutrition and food science. The expanded space also means the School of Dietetics and Human Nutrition has been able to double its capacity and admit 200 new students each year – a significant increase in Quebec, where the province’s three university nutrition programs combined have not been able to keep up with the demand for professional nutritionists.
“The completion of these laboratories could not have come at a more appropriate time in the history of Macdonald College,” says Dean of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences Chandra Madramootoo. “The concerns about food safety and the need for improved nutrition and diets are extremely topical, and these facilities will allow us to train the best dieticians, who will provide the latest knowledge and advice on nutritional improvements to patient diets in order to curb the major non-communicable diseases affecting society.”