Vegging Out: vegetarians and vegans on campus

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April 30, 2010

1:37 AM

The mere thought of campus dining is, to some vegetarians and vegans, a harrowing idea. As these students enter a campus dining hall and are confronted with seemingly endless choices of meat, dairy and other animal products, the lone vegetarian and vegan station stands out as a beacon. However, the College of William and Mary’s Dining Services works hard to ensure that all students have access to tasty meals.
Overall, while the choices may not offer the widest variety, the vegetarian and vegan community make do. Some even find it easier to eat at school than at home.

“You have every kind of food you’ll need, and you don’t have to go out of your way to get anything,” Talbot Armstrong ’13 said. “Being at college makes it boring, but not any harder.”

Armstrong became a vegan this past year.

Some students said they find the limited choices rewarding and beneficial to their diets.

“At school I definitely eat a lot more fruit, and I stay away from the stuff they actually prepare for you [in the dining halls], so I feel like I eat a lot of unprocessed things, which can’t be bad,” Zach Krohmal ’13 said. “Except cookies, I eat a lot of cookies.”

Krohmal made the decision to be a vegetarian when he was a six years old.

One of the biggest school events for vegetarian and vegan students is the Commons Dining Hall’s vegetarian theme day, which was held for the second time this year on April 15. All options at the Caf were vegan or vegetarian, save for one meat entree at the comfort station. In the past, this event has irked non-vegetarian students.

“Last year the vegetarian meal was really great, but for some reason there was some backlash, I guess because people don’t like hearing the words vegetarian or vegan,” Pablo Fierro ’10, who serves on the student vegan and vegetarian committee, said.

Reasons for the ill feelings are hard to pin down, but some vegetarians and vegans think that it has to do with a misunderstanding of what the event is about.

“I feel like people hated [the vegetarian theme day] not so much because it was food they didn’t like, but because they felt that the way they eat was being degraded,” Armstrong said. “They see it as the establishment saying that eating meat is wrong.”

Others think the anger comes from a simple closed-mindedness concerning other people’s choices.

“For some people, it is a purely ideological thing,” Krohmal said. “They resent a diversity of preferences being represented. It is a demonstration of absolute insecurity and intolerance.”

To create more tolerance and diversity in the typical student’s meal plan, Dining Services said it keeps all students’ tastes in mind in new dining ventures.

“When we designed [the Caf] we actually designed a special area called the access station, which houses the vegan and vegetarian station,” Commons Director Larry Smith said. “What we try to do is put vegan and vegetarian [dishes] out on a three-week menu cycle throughout the whole year.”

The menus are not dictated simply by Dining Services, but rather crafted with the help of vegan and vegetarian students.

“We design [menus] with the input of the vegan and veggie committee, which [is comprised] of about six or seven students,” Smith said. “We meet every other week, we get feedback and we also obviously use our comment card area as feedback.”

Smith added that student input makes up 50 to 60 percent of the decision regarding the vegetarian and vegan options that are offered at the Caf.

“At the meeting [Dining Services] always wants to know what they’re doing right, what they can do better, what meal options are good, what we’d like to see,” Fierro said.

This discussion between students and Dining Services has led to changes in the way Dining Services provides for vegetarians and vegans.

“As communication has improved, we’ve seen a wider variety of options, and if there are concerns we talk about them and figure out what we can do,” committee member Alexandra York ’10, said.

Dining Services also sees the increased number of options for vegetarians and vegans as a step toward food equality.

“I think that we can keep on growing … as long as we have great communication,” Smith said.

Although Dining Services said it works hard to create a variety of quality meals for vegan and vegetarian students, it does not always succeed.

“One thing I find frustrating is that oftentimes the vegetarian options aren’t vegan,” Humans for Animal Liberation and Vegetarian president Alliance Ashley Hoover ’11 said. Hoover also serves on the vegetarian and vegan committee.

However, a dearth of vegan options can often be remedied by asking for food to be made to student’s specifications.

“[Dining Services is] willing to fix something for you, if requested, if there’s nothing available to eat,” York said.

Other students said they find solace in basics such as the salad bar, or peanut butter and jelly, when the options for vegans and vegetarians are too limited. While the Caf has a specifically designated vegan or vegetarian station, the other dining halls do not offer the same amenities.

“One thing that’s slightly frustrating is that there’s basically one option at the Marketplace; we can only get the vegetarian burrito at Zoca,” Fierro said.

The Marketplace is just one of the dining halls that vegans and vegetarians said they find lacking in options. The Sadler Center also does not have a designated vegetarian station. But even if a specific station for vegetarians is not available, some students find that the locations on campus with limited options have better meals for vegans.

“Sadler is best for vegan meals,” Talbot Armstrong ’13 said. “They always have vegan hot dogs or vegan hamburgers. They always have an entertaining food choice for vegans.”

The vegan and vegetarian students’ influence on Dining Services at the Caf has also caused change at the other campus dining locations.

“The thing about meeting with Larry and the other workers at the Caf is that they take into consideration what we say and they report back to the [Sadler Center] and the Marketplace,” Hoover said.

As Dining Services continues to work with students in order to make improvements, it hopes to see a greater number of quality meals provided for vegans and vegetarians, hopefully without upsetting too many non-vegetarians and vegans in the process.

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