The pasta’s out because it’s made from egg. The salad is covered in parmesan cheese. The stock used in the vegetable soup is an unknown commodity. Even the wild pilaf rice contains bits of pasta that may be made from egg. Eating vegan on campus, according to senior Sunni Barbera, is no easy feat.
Frustrated at not being able to eat on campus, Barbera and fellow vegan Lance Craig have initiated a petition aimed at convincing Dining Services that there is a demand for vegan food on campus. The pair is also campaigning for ingredient lists to be posted where cooked food is served and for natural-ingredient drinks to be sold on campus.
“There are a lot of people on campus that won’t eat the food here,” Barbera said. “Lance and I thought it would be a good idea to get them to offer some things on campus.”
Jeff Mack, director of auxiliary services, said Aramark, the food services company that provides catering services on campus, already provided vegetarian options on campus and, as of today, would be introducing a vegan option at the Fresh Food Company restaurant in the Andros Center. Mack said the change was prompted by earlier discussions between resident students and Aramark and was not related to the petition.
Barbera and Craig, who as vegans avoid eating food that contains dairy products as well as not eating meat, originally contacted Dining Services by filling out an online Dining-Services satisfaction form. As a result, the pair met with resident district manager Tom Williamson, marketing manager Monica Witte and district dietician Hannah Stahmer on Oct 7. Initially, Barbera said, Dining Services seemed receptive to their suggestions.
“I guess they thought it would be a real quick, easy (meeting). They gave us free dining passes and asked us for suggestions for retail,” Barbera said.
Barbera presented Dining Services with a booklet she had prepared detailing examples of vegan food that could be sold on campus and what vegan food Aramark’s food distributor CISCO offered. According to Barbera, Dining Services expressed doubts about the demand for such changes.
“They said, ‘Well you’re the only two people on campus that have ever mentioned it to us. So why should we change it for you?'”
At a second meeting on Oct. 21 in the Fresh Foods restaurant, Craig said he and Barbera were advised by Stahmer that the soup in the restaurant was suitable for vegans. When the pair asked the catering staff to see what stock was used to prepare the soup, the staff returned with chicken and beef stock containers. The visit to the restaurant also highlighted another issue for vegans.
“We went and asked what was in the croutons, if they were made with butter. They don’t have the packaging. They don’t know what’s in it,” Barbera said. “The pesto had parmesan cheese in it so we couldn’t eat that. Even the wild rice pilaf had bits of pasta in it and since the pasta has egg, it’s not vegan.”
The senior said the only food in the restaurant that was suitable for vegans that day was tofu, rice, soy milk and some Tazo teas.
“But it’s an all-you-can-eat buffet and if we had paid the same as someone who could eat (everything there), it wasn’t worth it,” Barbera said.
Mack said Aramark has been responsive to student suggestions since taking over the dining services contract from Sodexho last summer. Citing the Natural Selection convenience store located in the Phyllis P. Marshall Center that was closed after it failed to generate sufficient revenue last year, Mack said not all student suggestions are economically viable.
“You have to look at the whole campus picture,” Mack said. “If we converted a large part to vegan foods and it didn’t pan out, we’re not providing a service to everyone.”
Barbera agreed that Dining Services had been interested in hearing their requests, but expresses dissatisfaction at the food services company’s handling of the second meeting. She said the company had asked at the first meeting for examples of retail foods that could be offered but then criticized the food items, which included vegan cookies, the pair had researched as being unhealthy.
When asked for comment, Williamson said it was Aramark policy not to answer questions unless they were submitted in advance and vetted by Aramark’s public relations department.
The pair’s motivation for starting the petition, which can be signed in the Center Gallery in the Marshall Center, was to convince Dining Services there was a genuine demand for vegan food on campus.
“They want to please everyone but they don’t think there’s enough need. They’re reluctant to do something that’s going to take a lot of time that they don’t think is necessary,” Barbera said. “That’s why we’re trying to find the people and make them more comfortable with doing it.”
At the moment, Barbera said she brings her lunch from home. She estimates she spends up to an hour per day preparing food.
“God forbid you leave your lunch on the counter — you starve,” she said.
While many campuses cater to vegetarians, meals suitable for vegans are not widely available at campuses nationwide. Some campuses, such as the University of California, Berkeley and the University of Maryland, have a dedicated vegan cooking station in one of its diners.
Mack said Dining Services is willing to listen to students’ suggestions and will, where practical, implement them.
“We need to look at what the needs are for the community. If (vegan food) is one of the suggestions then we should add it,” Mack said. “We expect that we will have variety and options, as many, if not more than restaurants in this area.”