Pioneer College Caterers, providers of ENC’s cafeteria dining services, made a subtle but impactful change to their menu by adding vegan options after the Town Hall meeting last November.
Food Services Director Rick Harmon says push back from students, including an overwhelming response to surveys about food options, influenced their decision to begin serving food options specifically for the vegan crowd.
Before the cafeteria began offering entrees tailored to a vegan diet, those who avoided animal products had a difficult time eating in the cafeteria. Some students opted to remove themselves from their dining plans. One environmental science student and long-time vegan, Kelly Di Stefano, shed some light on the difference between being a vegan before the cafeteria began offering vegan-specific items and after.
Di Stefano says she stuck to eating cereal with almond or soy milk, bagels with peanut butter, and any plain vegetables available. “Some days were better than others,” she states.
Now, dining services occasionally has a section specifically labelled “vegan entrée” with a few sides. Di Stefano says that when food in the cafeteria is made vegan intentionally, it’s very good and very tasteful. She explains that entrées are few and far between, and sides like rice and beans are far more common, though often “accidentally vegan.” The salad bar has always been present at lunch and dinner, with several nutritious options including lettuce, spinach, bean sprouts, and tofu, with olive oil and vinegar for dressing—all of which are vegan.
As for the food preparation, Harmon says his staff tries their best to keep items separated so as not to cross contaminate, but as of now there is no special preparation area for these items.
Are these options enough for a full-spectrum nutritious meal for vegans? Harmon does a great job of addressing all aspects of the food pyramid for all types of eaters, including vegans, vegetarians, and those who are gluten-free. If anyone has any complaints, Di Stefano says that Harmon is “very open and interested in providing vegan options, and I’m sure he would love meal suggestions and ideas that can be made in large quantities without the more unusual ingredients such as nutritional yeast.”
Eating vegan in the ENC dining hall isn’t the challenge it once was, but it is a work in progress. If students still find eating in the cafeteria to be too difficult, they may work with Harmon to identify different options or remove themselves from the meal plan.