Keeping off the “freshman 15” can be hard enough, but how about balancing a vegetarian or vegan diet with the fast-paced lifestyle of a college student?
Eating healthy, let alone eating vegetarian or vegan, can be a challenge when you have only 20 minutes to grab food for lunch between classes. “We’re looking for the quickest way to get full,” said vegetarian Saval Desai (’16). Getting adequate nutrients to keep your body healthy and to stay alert in classes is crucial for college students. When asked about her experiences as a vegan at Drew, Kayla Webster (’16) said “The vegan options are so limited and repetitive that it’s unlikely for there to be a significant availability of nutrients in the one meal offered a day.”
When asked to describe the options for students, Food Service Director Mark Vallaro said, “We feature a dedicated vegetarian station in the Commons which includes hot entrees, sides and soup.” At the Commons, nutritional information is posted for every dish, giving students the opportunity to know what they are putting into their bodies. “Each menu item has a list of ingredients so that a person who eats vegan can determine that the item is vegan,” Vallaro said. However, “There are never ingredients listed for the desserts. I can never be sure if it’s safe for me to eat,” said Webster.
“All of the Commons menus with their nutrition information are posted on our website as well. We also provide a Nutrition App that allows you to check the nutrition information from your smartphone,” Vallaro said. Although nutritional information is posted online for food at the Commons, no ingredients are listed online.
Desai said that it is “always useful to have ingredients,” but she elaborated “you can have either the one or two dishes that are vegetarian, or pasta with watery sauce. Sometimes I have cereal for dinner because the pizza is dry and crusty.” Webster said, “I know I can’t afford to be picky as a vegan in a cafeteria environment, but I should at least have options.”
There are also opportunities for students to cook as well in the Commons. “Whether you put together a salad, stir-fry, a sandwich or a pasta dish, you can determine what goes into it,” Vallaro said. However, Desai disagreed, highlighting the issue of cross-contamination at the stir-fry station. “I could be eating meat and not know it,” Desai said. This is an unfortunate reality for many students who are trying to preserve their values associated with being vegetarian or vegan.
The Commons is not the only location to find vegetarian or vegan food on campus. “In the Food Court, there are pre-packed items that are marked as vegan,” according to Vallaro. Sticking to Drew-only food with a meal plan can be difficult for vegetarian and vegan students. “It’s even hard at the EC because items have eggs,” said Desai who, in addition to being a vegetarian, does not eat eggs. In her opinion, the C-store is best “because I can buy packaged food.”
When asked about Drew Dining’s attitude towards vegetarian and vegan eaters, Desai said, “They’re trying their best, but results aren’t showing. They’re half-heartedly trying. They can say all these things about the ingredients, about the pasta sauce, but it’s still watery.” Students should be able to not only comfortably maintain their diet in accordance with their values, but also enjoy and feel satisfied from the food they are eating. Webster said, “More than a few times I have recognized earlier vegan meals from the week thrown together in one soupy mess.”
For the future, although Drew Dining is trying to meet the needs of its vegetarian and vegan students, the quality and variety of the available options require much improvement to make it possible for these lifestyles to be maint