I’ve been vegetarian for almost a year now, and I sometimes forget there are even restrictions on my diet. This is because recently, the availability of meatless or plant-based options in the world has improved drastically. Unfortunately, college campuses are a bit behind.
One of the first things people look at when choosing a college is the food. Universities know this, which is why a range of chain restaurants are becoming increasingly present on campuses. I remember when I toured NC State and one of the tour guides’ main selling points was the Chick-fil-A near the library.
While colleges are working to appeal to the public at large, they don’t give enough attention to students — or prospective students — that need diverse food options in other ways.
The amount of students that fall into this category isn’t insignificant either. According to a College Pulse survey from 2019, 14% of college students adhere to vegetarian or vegan diets. I’m often shocked at how many vegetarians or vegans I meet here at NC State. With such a strong presence, it frustrates me how this community isn’t accommodated as much as it should be.
The NC State Dining webpage is misleading and doesn’t reflect the reality of meatless options at the dining halls. It says Dining offers a “wide array of tasty vegetarian and vegan options at every meal in the dining halls.” It’s good the website offers suggestions for what to eat if you don’t like anything being served, but it’s basically limited to a salad or sandwich. It says they have vegetarian burgers or veggie nuggets at every meal too, but I’ve gone to the dining hall to find neither of these things at times.
It’s also irritating that I can’t always trust the dining hall menu posted online. Sometimes, I’ll check the menu just to show up and find some options aren’t actually being served.
The food and allergen labels displayed above each station are helpful to a certain extent, but some foods are marked as “untested for ingredients and allergens,” limiting my dining options sometimes.
I’ve also signed up to receive the school’s updates on vegetarian and vegan menus and dining news, but I’ve never actually gotten any updates.
This year I’ve been eating at the Atrium a lot, simply because I can find more vegetarian options there — smoothie bowls, wraps, french fries, sushi and yogurt. However, the Atrium’s hours are much shorter than the dining halls’ hours, so I haven’t always been able to turn there.
One Earth in Talley Student Union usually has some good options, but again, the hours are short. The other restaurants in Talley have been good for me to rely on too, but the location makes it inconvenient at times.
These logistical issues are why it’s important for the dining halls to diversify their vegetarian and vegan options. It’s especially important that accommodations be made on our campus as college students are more likely than the general population to be vegetarian or vegan.
This isn’t to say the dining halls offer nothing for vegetarian and vegan students. I’ve certainly been able to find something at every meal. Though not always, veggie nuggets are usually there. Pizza and garlic bread are fairly constant. There’s also the salad bar and fruit that I can expect to be there.
It gets tiring though, to eat the same things every day due to a limited availability of meatless options. We all get sick of the dining hall at some point, but for vegetarians and vegans, I think that time comes sooner.
Transitioning to college is hard as is, but when you realize there are no home cooked meals and your diet is essentially dependent on the whim of others, that only makes the situation trickier.
While providing meatless options will definitely require more effort, it’s necessary and far from impossible. Aramark, the largest food service provider in the U.S., recently shared it’ll be pushing for more plant-based dining options at over 250 U.S. colleges and universities. According to TastingTable, “The company’s goal is to have 44% of its offerings be plant-based by 2025.” If NC State is willing, seeking out options like this could be a hopeful change for vegetarian and vegan students.
At the very least, if accommodating current students isn’t enough of an incentive for dining to commit to diversifying food options, more people would probably be willing to choose NC State for their college experience if vegetarians and vegans didn’t have to worry about accessible foods.