Dining halls expand vegan and vegetarian dining options

The changes are a result of an effort to increase healthy food options on campus.

by Jordan Willauer

New vegan and vegetarian options were rolled out at University residential dining halls this semester in an effort to encourage healthier eating.

The new options include a new made-to-order vegan saute bar and vegan ice cream station in Sanford Hall and increased availability of vegan meals. Thirty percent of residence hall dining options are now “plant-forward,” meaning they accommodates vegan or vegetarian diets, according to Chris Elrod, district marketing manager at M Dining.

The vegan ice cream is popular with both vegans and non-vegans, Elrod said.

While increasing options for vegans and vegetarians is an outcome of M Dining’s focus on offering more vegetable-focused menus, their goal is to accommodate as many students as possible and encourage healthier and more sustainable eating.

“At the end of the day we want to incorporate all students, not just vegans and vegetarians,” said Elrod. “We want to make sure that if [students] limit their meat consumption for whatever reason, they can have options that are tasty and quality.”

Maddie Westenberg, a freshman studying biochemistry, said she finds it easy to eat vegan at the University.

Vegan restaurants near the University and friends who also eat vegan made the campus feel more welcoming and helped her continue a vegan diet, Westenberg said.

Westenberg said the plant-forward meals offered by M Dining might encourage non-vegetarian students to try new foods.

“When a lot of people hear the word vegan, it deters them … Introducing it as plant-based eating is a good way to get more people involved,” Westenberg said.

Elrod said that according to a nationwide survey conducted by Aramark, the parent company of M Dining, students in higher education today are more likely to follow a meatless diet than baby boomers or those from Generation X. He also said that even if the students don’t follow a meatless diet, they are more mindful of their meat consumption.

In a 2017 University survey by M Dining, 10 percent of students identified as vegetarians and four percent identified as vegans. The question was added to last year’s survey following a push from the Minnesota Student Association, Elrod said.

Marina Kirkeide, president of the student group Compassionate Action for Animals, said learning about the ways factory farming affects the environment and the personal health benefits convinced her to go vegan three years ago.

“I think there is a lot of demand for plant-based food, even if you’re not vegan or vegetarian because I think in general people are reducing their meat consumption.” Kirkeide said. “I think especially people are moving away from red meat.”

Rebecca Leighton, a registered dietitian at Boynton Health, emphasized a well-planned vegan or vegetarian diet is just as healthy as any other diet.

“There is some evidence that says vegetarian and vegan diets may provide health benefits for preventing chronic diseases like heart disease and high blood pressure,” Leighton said. “For individuals who do choose to eat meat or animal products … There’s nothing bad about that at all.  In the practice of dietetics, we believe moderation is everything. There’s room for all foods and all diets.”

Along with the increase in healthier and vegan dining options, the University also offers dietary check-ups for students so they can ask experts questions about their dietary habits, Leighton said.