Last December, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) released their annual Vegan Report Card – awarding the University of Connecticut an ‘A’ rating for its vegan dining experience.
PETA is an organization that not only promotes vegan dining, but targets anyone who abuses animals in any way – from rescuing abandoned animals, to suing establishments that abuse animals, to getting car companies to offer vegan interior seating options (non-leather), according to peta.org.
“Animals are not ours to eat, wear, experiment on, use for entertainment, or abuse in any other way,” reads the organization’s slogan on peta.org.
PETA2, the youth branch of PETA, has been assessing the vegan experiences of every four-year public university in the nation since 2013. In the summer, a “yes/no” survey is emailed to the universities so that they can self-report their vegan experiences. The answers to these questions determine different point values that PETA turns into a letter grade, said PETA Assistant Manager of College Campaigns Kenneth Montville. The website also contains information on how students and university dining programs can improve their school’s vegan experience.
Schools can receive letter grades from a ‘Dean’s List A+’ down to a ‘F.’ Schools that get on the Dean’s List are institutions that have acquired enough points to be ranked in the top tier of A-list schools. About 15 schools made Dean’s List for 2015, including Yale University in New Haven, Conn., according to peta2.com.
“(The Vegan Report Card) has been a pretty phenomenal project,” Montville said. “The number of As has increased by 111 percent and the number of B’s has increased by 233 percent, all in three years.”
In addition to Yale’s ‘A+’ ranking, Connecticut’s universities received three ‘A,’ six ‘B,’ three ‘C,’ and three ‘F,’ rankings. UConn reserved one of those ‘A’ spots.
“This was the first year with the fewest ‘F’s,’” Montville said.
Universities are scored in 10 areas, and UConn had a check mark on 7/10: offers at least one vegan entrée at every meal; offers nondairy milk; labels vegan entrees; labels vegan desserts; includes a vegan member on its student advisory board; promotes vegan options; and partners with students to distribute vegan food.
The marks the university missed are: participates in Meatless Mondays; offers an all-vegan station; and has an all-vegan dining facility, according to peta2.com.
Schools that receive Dean’s List, an ‘A’ or a ‘B’ are emailed a certificate for display, which many schools like to post in their newsletters or social outlets, Montville said.
“Schools are pretty excited when they get good marks,” Montville said.
UConn’s Dining Services did list the award on their website, stating: “This year we achieved a perfect ranking with 100 percent satisfaction.”
However, the “satisfaction” piece is different from the PETA letter grade – instead, it refers to the student satisfaction rating, available on PETA’s website. Students can go onto their school’s Vegan Report Card and rate a thumbs up or thumbs down.
The percentages are dependent on the number of students who go onto the website and rate their school. UConn’s current student satisfaction rating has been stagnant for the past couple weeks at 75 percent.
Montville said he was confused as to why UConn claimed a 100 percent satisfaction rating, although he stated that Dining Services probably looked at the rating early on when only a couple people casted their votes. It’s also possible that they might’ve mistakenly equated the ‘A’ letter grade to a 100 percent.
When questioned, Dining Services Executive Director Dennis Pierce said, “We are not involved in (PETA’s) survey and only hear the results via an email.”
Nonetheless, UConn is making strides in its vegan experience, with 2350 vegan recipes logged into FoodPro (dining service’s recipe system), according to Dining Services Culinary Manager Robert Landolphi.
“We continue to add more and more (recipes) every year,” Landolphi said.
While UConn offers many vegan options, including at least one entrée at every meal, events like Thanks Vegan at Whitney dining hall, and the “vgn” label on vegan items, students feel there is still room for improvement.
Tao Bror Bojlen, a vegan and a junior exchange student from the University of Edinburgh in Scotland majoring in cognitive science, said he would rate UConn a 7 out of 10.
“Overall, the dining experience for vegans isn’t bad,” Bojlen said. “It’s not hard to be vegan with UConn’s dining halls, but it could be better.”
Bojlén said that while there are a lot of options, many entrees use “faux meat,” which he argued isn’t for everyone, as he prefers vegetable-based dishes. However, he said he is “happy that there are options in the first place, and I never go hungry.”
Giorgina Paiella, a vegan and eighth-semester English major said she would also rate UConn a 6-7 for vegan experience.
“I don’t struggle to find things that I can eat, but the variety and quality of vegan options often depends on the day, and sometimes the choices are scarcer,” Paiella said.
Paiella also said she wishes that UConn would transition Whitney dining hall, often known as the “vegetarian/vegan facility,” into a 100 percent vegan unit, and work to reduce the meat served in other dining halls. She feels it is unnecessary to serve up to three different meats in one meal cycle in several dining halls at a time.
“I would say that UConn certainly deserves commendation for their vegan options, which are more plentiful and diverse than other college dining halls that don’t even take veganism into consideration,” Paiella said. “But a satisfaction rate of 100 percent would imply that there’s no room for improvement, and there always is – which isn’t exclusive to UConn, of course.”
Maya Schlesinger, a vegan and 2nd-semester animal science major, said she would rate UConn’s vegan accommodation at 8/10.
“I often plan my day around where the best vegan food is going to be,” Schlesinger said. “Obviously places like Whitney are pretty veg-friendly, though even sometimes I find myself asking, ‘did that really need milk in it?’”
Schlesinger said that according to PETA’s parameters, UConn deserves its ‘A’ rating, but student satisfaction doesn’t match up because there is “much more that goes into being satisfied.”
“Do we count a salad or French fries as the ‘vegan option’ at every meal? I don’t think this is sufficient since you really can’t sustain your entire diet based on this; the student experience takes much more into account,” Schlesinger said.
Bojlen, Paiella and Schlesinger all agreed that they wish UConn would serve a greater variety of vegan-friendly options.
“In a university setting specifically it’s really important that the school caters to their students to ensure that their students are able to live their lives as they wish,” Schlesinger said.
Additionally, although PETA gave UConn good marks for vegan promotion, it is “rarely the case,” Bojlen said. In response to this issue, Bojlen created a free app which gives an overview of the vegan options in every UConn dining hall, available at veganuconn.com.
Other helpful resources for vegan students are listed below:
UConn Dining Services: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
UConn Vegan student organization: email@example.com
PETA and PETA2: www.peta.org and www.peta2.com