Very often, students living on college and university campuses are required to purchase a set meal plan, which may not include enough variety to meet the needs of vegans. However, students can work to improve plant-based food options offered on their campus. This is easier than you may imagine. Food service managers are happy to expand their offerings, so long as they know students will eat what they serve. Here are some tips to get you started.
Working with the Dining Facilities Department
- Become active in the campus Food Service Committee. If your campus does not have such a committee, suggest it form one. This is an excellent way to bridge the gap between food service personnel and students.
- Whether or not you are on the committee, work to get students to sign onto an open letter requesting more vegan options in the dining facilities. The more student support you have, the better your chances of getting more vegan meals into the dining halls.
- Schedule a meeting with the school dietitian and/or food service director in charge of ordering food for the dining halls. Provide a written copy of your interests, including the petition and copies of PCRM's Vegetarian Starter Kit, which includes tips for modifying recipes. Invite a registered dietitian to speak to the food service staff and to the students on campus. Many campus food service facilities also employ registered dietitians, and they may be more receptive to information on vegetarian diets coming from one of their peers.
- Give the director a copy of the list of companies that produce vegan food products. This will get the director started in the right direction and be of assistance to him or her when contacting the food distributor. Companies such as Marriott or Aramark supply food on most college campuses and respond to suggestions that boost profits. For a complete listing of companies offering vegetarian food products in institutional sizes, see the Vegetarian Resource Group website.
- Provide simple, cost-effective suggestions for offering plant-based options. Give the director a list of current food options that can be easily modified and that all students would enjoy. The Vegetarian Starter Kit includes many helpful tips for modifying recipes. For example, if your cafeteria offers pasta with a meat sauce, suggest that it offer pasta with a marinara sauce or vegetable pizza without the cheese instead of traditional cheese pizza.
- Work with the food service director to promote the new vegan options in the school newspaper and food service circular. Remember, the more vegan meals students eat, the more likely the food service department will continue to make these foods available.
- Work with the dining halls to label all vegan foods with ingredient information and designate an icon that clearly identifies vegan items, such as a green circle. Some colleges offer vegan meals only upon request. In this case, suggest that the food service department publicize this service to inform other interested students of this accommodation.
- Set up an information table at the dining hall during peak hours to distribute information on vegetarianism. Coordinate this event with the food service department, requesting they highlight vegan options on the menu and offer food samples of vegetarian products to students entering the dining hall. Provide postcards for students to sign that support your request for vegan options and submit them to the food service director.
- Work with the food service department to celebrate World Vegetarian Day (October 1) and the Great American Meatout (March 20). The school newspaper and food service circular should publicize these events. Dining halls could feature a variety of vegan foods and distribute information on plant-based diets. Use billboards, fliers, and literature provided by PCRM and/or other groups for publicity.
Working outside of the Dining Halls
- Offer to provide the campus health center with literature on the connection between a plant-based diet and a reduced risk of developing heart disease, cancer, and other diseases. Visit PCRM's literature store for copies of our fact sheets.
- Put together information packets on plant-based diets for first-year orientation. Include a list of vegetarian/vegan-friendly restaurants and stores near campus. Include information about animal-friendly organizations on campus and the availability of vegan options in the campus dining facilities.
- Schedule a movie night or arrange for a speaker to lecture on campus. Reserve or rent a room on campus to show movies or have someone speak on vegetarianism. Provide free, vegan food samples and distribute literature on the benefits of plant-based diets to attendees.
- Work with the school newspaper to write a story on the health and environmental benefits of vegan diets and the great new options offered by dining services.
Once the dining halls offer vegan options, make sure they have comment cards available for student feedback. Dining services will continue to provide vegan meals only if they are in demand. If some students are not satisfied with the options being provided, work with dining services and provide them with new suggestions.
Some Positive Steps
Here are just a few examples of colleges and universities that offer vegan food options on campus.
- The University of Maryland at College Park recently created a "Vegetarian/Vegan Advisory Board" composed of students, the school dietitian, a student employee, and dining hall managers. They meet monthly to test recipes, with the goal of improving the vegetarian menu and adding more vegan choices.
- Connecticut College in New London has a dining hall that offers vegan options at every meal. The dining hall also serves Tofutti and Rice Dream bars, frozen, nondairy, ice cream alternatives. Every Thursday night, the vegetarian dining hall provides fruits and vegetables for juicing.
- At the University of California at Berkeley, students were faced with resistance from dining services staff. "They were sympathetic but weren't sure they could handle anything else," explained Leor Jacobi, one of the students who spearhead the effort to make the university's cafeterias more vegan-friendly. However, after the students set up a table with petitions outside of the dining halls—gaining more than 1,200 signatures and the support of more than one-fifth of Berkeley's dorm population—the food service staff soon fulfilled the students' requests. Just four weeks and many meetings later, the University's administration agreed to provide a fully vegan entrée at every meal.
- Columbia University offers a vegetarian soup, grain, and two vegetarian (sometimes vegan) meals daily at the John Jay Hall on campus.
Remember, your voice does make a difference. By working with dining facilities, you will be educating them—as well as your fellow students—on a healthier way of eating.