Entering a college-dining hall as a freshman is typically an exciting experience.
Unlimited cheeseburgers, pasta dishes, ice cream, French fries or salads become available with the swipe of an ID card. However, such expansive options do not exist for all students — especially those who choose to stick to a diet that restricts consumption of any animal products.
Debuting the Monday after spring break, the Pit opened a new vegan station with specific recipes cooked without any meat or dairy products. These meals are available for lunch and dinner during weekdays and from 12 p.m. to 7p.m. on the weekends to provide expanded dining options to all students. The meals change between lunch and dinner and repeat themselves every two weeks to both balance variety and remain simplistic.
“Our initial reasoning was to meet a rising need of students who live a vegan lifestyle,” said Sarah Barkley, marketing manager for Aramark. “We had a number of inquiries from students requesting vegan options and this station also satisfies our vegetarian population.”
After the first recipes were developed, Aramark and other campus dining professionals offered taste tests to a group of vegan students to ensure the meals were satisfactory. Sophomore Cameron Waters was among these students who initially sampled the recipes.
“I went to the taste test before they put it in before spring break and I thought the food was really good,” Waters said. “The vegan station is really nice because you know first of all that the pit will have something you can eat and you can be sure its vegan so you don’t have to guess. It’s just nice not to have to eat hummus all the time.”
However, as expected, cooking the vegan meals themselves brings respective challenges with incorporating vegan restrictions into all of the elements of a traditional meal.
“As a meat lover beyond repair, but also a former vegetarian for environmental reasons, I know that vegan food can be great, diverse and flavorful,” said senior Ann Nguyen. “That being said, a lot of the vegan food in the Pit is average and sometimes even terrible. If it will be similar to old vegan recipes, it is often tasteless and perpetuates the idea that vegan food is bland.”
However, the new vegan dishes offered were not created without consideration for flavor. According to Barkley, a thoroughly trained culinary staff with experience creating vegan meals collaborated to make the new menu.
Other concerns for individual vegans relate to creating balanced plates with enough necessary nutrients — especially in a dining hall with limited options.
“It’s pretty early in the game to talk about shortcomings, but I am a bit concerned about access to protein,” said sophomore Maggie Powell, a vegan. “Today there wasn’t much protein offered by the food at the station, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be lots of protein tomorrow. The vegan station is new to campus dining and it’s important to work with them and share concerns so they can make it better. But still, protein is definitely my biggest concern.”
Final issues regarding the new station relate to the common issue of food waste within the dining hall. As food waste is already a pre-existing issue in the Pit, offering students the option to try vegan foods for the first time now deepens these concerns.
“I also wonder how much of the vegan food is being wasted as they nestled in the corner of where the yogurt bar use to be,” Nguyen said. “I’m glad it’s there because it sets a precedent, especially in a region that is so meat oriented, but I hope it gives vegans not just an option but a truly delicious one.”
Aramark representatives recognize these concerns and plan to monitor the popularity of the station to minimize waste. While any new endeavor brings respective concerns, campus dining aimed to quiet such concerns by speaking to vegans themselves as well as dieticians and chefs in relation to the new vegan station.
“Not many college students, or people in general in the United States, are vegans so veganism isn’t something people are familiar with or accustomed to acknowledging,” Powell said. “I’ve had a lot of issues at the pit with people putting meat into food in the vegetarian station or not providing food as described on the menu online. There haven’t always options, so the vegan station is really exciting to me. No one wants to eat salad all the time.”