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Student group hopes for more dining options

USF student group Students Protecting the Environment and Animals with Knowledge (SPEAK) partnered with peta2 last week to petition Aramark for more healthy and animal-friendly foods.

The petition, signed by almost 3,000 students in two days, calls for better quality and more varied food in on-campus dining facilities.

Though peta2 works for animal rights by promoting vegetarianism and veganism, the goal of SPEAK’s petition was also to bring awareness to the dietary needs of students with food allergies or religious proscriptions.

Meg Malek, president of SPEAK, said many students choose to eat vegetarian foods for reasons other than animal rights.

“Some people are vegan not necessarily because they have political reasons,” she said. “There’s a lot more to it than political activism.”

Both SPEAK and peta2 had planned to petition Aramark, Malek said.

The two groups joined forces under peta2’s “Meat’s not Green” campaign, which aims to educate people about the environmental impacts of eating meat, such as the large quantity of water that must be used to grow crops that feed animals, said Colleen Mulcahey, faculty advisor for SPEAK.

“(Collaborating with PETA2) moved our timeline up a lot,” she said. “We were going to talk to Dining Services first.”

Now, Mulcahey said, when SPEAK meets with Dining Services, it will have solid      evidence that students do want change.

“We want to develop a    relationship that makes them    realize we want to work with them, not against (them),” Mulcahey said.

Aramark already provides food services like those SPEAK seeks to schools including Penn State and UNC Chapel Hill. These universities’ dining services clearly spell out which foods meet certain dietary needs, Mulcahey said, and they provide a greater variety of foods to students.

For example, Aramark’s Just4U program has categories including “Vegetarian,” “Vegan,” “Heart Healthy” and “Carb Counter.”

Also, other universities that Aramark works with provide greater variety to    students, Mulcahey said, so it is clear that it would be possible to do the same at USF.

“Some universities have even changed their vending machines to include healthy foods and those that cater to students with allergies,” she said.

Another change SPEAK hopes to see is the addition of “designated” food preparation spaces where only certain types of food can be prepared.

Mulcahey said that though a space is set aside for vegetarian food at the Fresh Food Company, there are no such spaces for foods for students with lactose or gluten intolerance, other allergies or kosher diet requirements.

“This is a diverse campus with all cultures,” she said. “We want them to offer variety that would also coincidentally be vegetarian.”

Malek said SPEAK plans to send the petitions to Aramark, USF Dining Services and the managers of the Fresh Food Company and the Bulls Den Café.

SPEAK members hope changes will be made soon, Mulcahey said, but she doesn’t want people to think change will happen overnight.

Armark’s marketing department was not available to comment.