Fall 2011 –
Miami University has won more NACUFS Loyal E. Horton Dining Awards—the ultimate professional tribute in college and university culinary arts—than any other university in North America. As a result, Miami prides itself in the facilities and food services available to the student and staff population. But to some students, Miami Dining still falls short of expectations- vegans and vegetarians dietary preferences do not always align with university dining options.
Junior Cortney Calvelage is a studio art major and a vegetarian. During her first two years at Miami while living on campus, she found the shortage of vegetarian options frustrating but still feasible in the buffet dining locations, she said. However, since moving off campus, she finds her options much more limited.
“It’s hard to find anything at the A La Carte Locations that is not ridiculously expensive,” said Calvelage. “I usually end up eating carbs or chips if I want a snack when I’m on campus.”
Without the perks of the Diplomat meal-plan discount that is available to on campus students, those off campus end up paying about 30 percent more at every dining location. Off campus students only have the option of signing up for the Miami Express plan.
Those who have a vegan diet have even fewer options because of greater limitations on what can be consumed. Vegans do not consume animal products in any form. That means cream, butter, and eggs. While some choose a vegan lifestyle for dietary purposes only, others take an ethical stance against the industrial practices that are considered environmentally damaging and unsustainable.
Beverly Rambo, a Food Service Specialist in the Housing, Dining, Recreation, and Business Services, works closely with students who have special dietary requests. She explained that the Culinary Support Center receives complaints nearly every year, and therefore continues to work hard and strives for improvements. Recipe testing occurs most often during the summer months, but changes to menus can be implemented throughout the school year.
According to Rambo, recipe testing can be difficult when attempting to produce large quantities of food items. When trying new vegan recipes, most often issues of taste and texture hinder the quality of item. The Culinary Support Center uses students and non-students to sample new recipes and their input is used when determining whether or not a new product is added.
Miami Dining Services welcomes and encourages students to submit recipes for testing, especially those with special dietary preferences. Rambo and the Culinary Support Center values student suggestions and takes all requests very seriously. Although, it can take awhile to implement student requests and make permanent changes to menu items.
One change to be implemented at all Wok This Way locations across campus will be the recipe for the rice used in stir-fry meals. Currently the rice contains a margarine that uses animal products, but with the change to the recipe the rice will now be vegan. This change has no definitive date, but Rambo is hopeful it will be during the 2011-12 school year.
A call for more vegan and vegetarian menu items is cylindrical, according to Rambo, who has worked within the Culinary Support Center for over a decade. She figures that about 3 percent of the student population maintains a strict vegan diet.
“We have so much more to be done, and their complaints are valid, but the students are very patient, said Rambo.”
Trends in vegan and vegetarian diets were noticed initially at the height of the Western Program that has since been reformatted. It was at that time when Alexander Dining Hall was designed with the universitys largest salad bar and had the most vegan and vegetarian options. Since then Alexander has maintained its status as the place to go for Vine Dining. Hamilton Dining Hall is the secondary location for vegan and vegetarian preferences. It is only at Alexander and Hamilton that students can find a vegan bakery item on the menu every Tuesday and Thursday.
With an increase in the international student population, the Culinary Support Center has attempted to cater to international preferences as well. Rambo described how international food recipes often coincide with vegetarian or vegan needs or the culinary staff will adapt international recipes to be appealing to both international students and vegans or vegetarians.
The greatest factor considered when making a menu change or adaptation is cost. Increasing food prices across the nation also have an impact on Dining Services, as they too must stay within a budget.
Second to cost is the issue of staffing and availability of facilities. Currently, some dining halls are limited to what can be served in those locations because of the equipment that is available within each. Regulations regarding safety, sanitation and duration of time food can be kept either hot or cold are also important considerations. However, staffing proves to be an obstacle becoming more and more difficult to overcome.
“It’s hard to find people willing to work in food service,” explained Rambo.
Not only is there a challenge in finding full-time food service staff, but also finding and retaining quality student workers willing to work in the dining halls has become increasingly challenging throughout the years. Most students who begin working in the dining halls have little or no experience in food service. With more time and money spent on training to maintain high quality service, less can be spent on recipe implementation and development.
Despite the improvements in offering a greater number of vegan and vegetarian menu items over the past few years, the Rambo and the Culinary Support Center recognize that “so much more work can be done.” Miami’s commitment to continuous improvement in this area reflects its goal to become a more sustainable institution.
What are other universities doing?
•University of North Texas: opened the first all-vegan cafeteria
•Oklahoma City University: first campus with a raw vegan bar
•Michigan State: runs a food station serving vegan and vegetarian options
•Indiana University: winner of peta2s most vegetarian-friendly college 2011
•UCLA: winner of peta2s most vegan-friendly college 2010
•Southern Adventist College: ranked #1 Best Vegetarian/Vegan-Friendly Options by collegeprowler.com
By: Aunna Matthiesen