Plant based diets just got a celebrity boost with Beyonce’ introducing a line of ready made vegan meals. Plant based eaters at Southern Oregon University hope it helps spread the word since their options on campus are very narrow.
About 25% of college students polled said they believed vegan options were important and they represent the fastest growing number of the roughly one million vegans in the United States. “Every station has a vegan option for it available at pretty much all times,” says CR Moreno, System Administrator for the Hawk residential dining hall. But plant based diners say–not so fast–they claim the options are few and mostly less than desirable. As you enter the Hawk you are greeted by a line of plates displaying the day’s entrees. Out of the six dishes on display tonight, none of them are vegan. Not even the salad bar dish. What’s a vegan to do?
“One can only eat so many unripe bananas…The dining hall is extremely limited when it comes to plant-based food, so I’ve been eating in a very repetitive way,” says Zach Whitworth, a vegan at SOU, who as a freshman must purchase either a Red or Black meal plan neither of which are marketable to vegans.
Kelsey Koens, also a freshman vegan, expresses her main frustration: “By paying for a meal plan, I am directly paying for the consumption of animal products, that I obviously don’t believe in. So not only am I paying for there to be animal products in the Hawk, but I am only able to eat a small fraction of the food they offer and that’s a huge waste of money.”
Whitworth and Koans are not just concerned about their own diets but about the environmental impacts of meat and dairy. They feel a school designated as a “Green School” should be more aware of environmental degradation from animal products, , “As a school that boasts about its eco-friendliness, we can’t be hypocritical by supporting the leading cause of climate change,” Zach points out.
Whitworth and Koans were both inspired to switch to the vegan life for animal rights primarily although environmental concern also fuels them. Koans cites the documentary Earthlings as her pivot point, which encouraged her to do more research about the health benefits of veganism. Zach, in the spirit of Leonardo da Vinci, says he does not want his body to be a temple for any of the 50 million animals slaughtered every year.
Moreno, meanwhile, says that veganism is a personal choice, and often morally charged, “We try to respect that here. There’s not a huge vegan population on campus, but enough. We try to take care of them.”
“This isn’t a fad. People are starting to ask more questions about their food and how it’s sourced,” says Gerard Gander, Executive Chef of Elmo’s Food Court in Stevenson Union. Gander has been researching and developing more vegan options, working closely with local farmers, sustainability councils, and A’viands nutritionist Linda Smith to ensure everything is as healthy and organic as possible but they still have very few vegan options, most days they have no full meals without meat or dairy available.
Gander has found a supplier for vegan breads and hopes to eventually produce a line of vegan sandwiches for the “Good to Go” fridge, but hasn’t calculated the demand yet. So right now vegans have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or rice noodles and veggies.
While they hope for more options Koans proposes better labeling, specialty vegan items like dairy-free cheeses and butters, and adjusted prices for vegans with meal plans. Since plant-based diets are cheaper than animal-based diets, Zach would like to see a specifically plant-based meal plan.
Staff in the dining halls claim they are always open to student comments and requests, “If you want something specific, I will go to the ends of the earth, research it, and put it out there…If it’s important to you, then it’s important to me,” says Gander.
You can schedule a meeting with Moreno at the Hawk, or leave your email address on the comment card for Gander at Elmo’s and he will personally reply.
Now that Beyonce’ is on board, Is it possible SOU will follow? We’ll keep you posted.