Students criticize move to more plant-based menus

UConn Dining Services is part of the Menus of Chane Initiative which promotes healthier, more sustainable dining. One of the pillars of the initiative is deemphasizing the use of red meat and poultry in favor of more plant-based dishes. (Josh Stanavage/The Daily Campus)

University of Connecticut recently received an A+ grade on its Vegan Report Card issued by PETA, but some students said dining services has gone too far in the direction of plant-based menus.

“Sometimes all they have is vegan (versions of a dish) …when they have vegan, they have vegan,” Jeffery Narcisse, a undeclared freshman said. “Some people don’t eat meat, so it’s good that they do that, but they need to think about other people too.”

Narcisse, who lives in East Campus, said the Edwina Whitney Dining Hall in particular often lacks non-vegan options.

Adomous Wright, a senior computer science engineering major, is a vegetarian and said he is glad that Whitney offers so many options that fit his dietary needs.

“I don’t have to look at menus for different dining halls to find vegetarian options. Whitney always has something,” Wright said.

Noria Davis, a fifth-semester animal science major said that, while she thinks increasing vegan/vegetarian options is a good idea, dining services should maintain a more equal balance.

“It’s a positive idea; I just wish it was better balanced because it’s so focused on vegans (and) vegetarians, it’s not very fair to everyone else,” Davis said.

UConn Culinary Operations Manager, Rob Landolphi, said Dining Services always offers a variety of food options for students of all dietary preferences and needs.

“We have a variety of meat and fish options available every day in every dining hall,” Landolphi said. “If you use the menu app you can look at the menus of all dining halls and decide what menu offerings best meet your needs. If you still are in search of a different option, ask for a manager and they can assist you.”

UConn had an 85 percent student satisfaction rating on its Vegan Report Card this year, up from 78 percent last year.

Landolphi said Dining Services can make accommodations for vegan and vegetarian students who may not like the options available to them if they ask.

“Once we get that relationship going…then we can work with them to make sure they’re getting some of the vegan/vegetarian options they’re looking for,” Landolphi said. “They may just not like what we have out there and I don’t blame them for that.”

UConn Dining Services is part of the Menus of Chane Initiative which promotes healthier, more sustainable dining. One of the pillars of the initiative is deemphasizing the use of red meat and poultry in favor of more plant-based dishes.  

“Moving forward (we’re going to be) making the plant-based options the center of the plate with the meat as a…side,” Landolphi said.

Kelli Knapp, a fifth-semester animal science major said that, while Dining Services does indeed still offer meat options, students have complained about the gradual transition.

“They do still have meat, just much less (of it),” Knapp said. “It’s probably better, but people complain about it.”  

Landolphi said most of the changes Dining Services make are based on student feedback. Dining Services meets with RHA, SUBOG and individual students every year. They also conduct surveys, have comment cards in the dining units and a comments section on the Dining Services website.

“We’re always looking for new, innovative, trendy foods and I think a lot of that is going to be students request,” Landolphi said. “That’s where we get our ideas from.”

This semester, Dining Services started serving 30 new plant-based recipes, Landolphi said. Landolphi said he always wants to make sure he is developing recipes that students will actually enjoy and will be popular.

“I have to know what students are willing to eat,” Landolphi said.

Landolphi said Dining Services keeps data on how many portions of various dishes each dining unit goes through and at the end of each semester, they evaluate whether they should remove an item that has become less popular.

“We say: ‘Maybe it’s time to remove that item and try something new in its place’,” Landolphi said.

Landolphi said Dining Services will begin serving black bean taquitos at late night next semester.

The Vegan Report Card questionnaire also asks questions about operating hours, seating capacity, nutrition education and food available near campus,

“If you’re a vegan or vegetarian, yes we are going to have plenty of options…we are able to prepare something for that student that meets their need whereas downtown it’s a lot harder,” Landolphi said. “We’re able to adapt a little easier, make it easier to give the student what they like.”

Landolphi said he is also interested in looking at possibly developing more vegan desserts, which are only available at Whitney right now.

“That is an area I’d be interested to keep an eye on…a lot of vegans are very healthy eaters though so…they don’t eat a lot of sweets,” Landolphi said. “What we’re going to have to do if we do create a dessert is make sure it meets everybody’s needs.”


Anna Zarra Aldrich is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at anna.aldrich@uconn.edu. She tweets @ZarraAnna.