With eight different dining halls at the University of Connecticut, one would assume that the needs of every single student with all combinations of dietary restrictions are met. As someone who has a restriction, I can confidently state that this is not the case. How do you explain to someone who doesn’t go to UConn that you have never gotten consistent vegetarian or vegan dishes that are both delicious and nutritious? How do I convey that I often skip breakfast or dinner not out of choice, but because I’ve eaten the same cereal or the same oatmeal for the past week now?
I’ve had some people say to me, “But you guys always have pizza, pasta and salads,” as if that substitutes for a consistent vegetarian option. No matter how much of a pizza lover you may be, eating the same thing for lunch and dinner for a week becomes tedious and isn’t healthy. Whereas on the other hand, salads are healthy, but how much repetition can someone undergo in terms of their daily nutrition? Vegetarianism does not entail just leaves and grass as viable options. While I agree that it is important to watch your health, there is no reason I should be eating salads three times a day because there are no decent meatless options available. When I am required to pay an exorbitant amount of money for food as a student who lives on campus, I do not necessarily appreciate that pizza, pasta and salads are the only things that I can count on as meals.
I must acknowledge that UConn has made strides to include more dietary restriction-friendly options in terms of their dining halls. Towers and Whitney are the places that come to mind; the former is known for its kosher and halal options whereas the latter always has vegan breakfast options.
However, there is still a problem. Not everyone who has those restrictions is concentrated in those two areas on campus! If I wanted to go to Whitney to grab myself some vegan French toast in the morning, I have to incorporate travel time on top of dining time because I do not live near East Campus. Naturally, I resort to eating the same cereal or the same oatmeal at a dining hall that I live closest to, but I feel the anger associated with the choice I was forced to make: Why do I have to work harder to find food I can actually eat and enjoy on a daily basis, when some people can find those options within a two-minute walk? Of course, one could say that if I really wanted better food, I could live near East, but what if I want to live in a certain learning community to supplement my learning? Or be close to my classes for convenience? The fact is, dining options are not the only thing that factor into the decision of where I choose to live, and again, why can’t these options be accessible at other dining halls?
Furthermore, many of the international cuisines that UConn offers have vegetarian fried foods which are labeled vegan. Many of the main dishes are fried in oil used for non-vegan products, such as the falafel, the tofu and the samosas. While UConn specifies the uncertainties of whether or not the oil used is untainted, I wonder why exactly the oil must be tainted in the first place. The whole idea of food being vegan is to ensure that there is no meat taint within the product. So whenever I read those little “vgn” signs that say the food “may or may not be fried in the same oil as meat products,” cross-contamination occurs, and in my eyes, the food is no longer solely vegan. If UConn goes to the effort of writing that the food has been cooked in meat oil, then why can’t UConn not use meat oil in the first place?
Vegetarians and vegans suffer just that extra bit at any college campus because most of the time, we do not get that option of nutrition and variety that non-vegetarian people do. UConn needs to make vegan and vegetarian hot food more accessible throughout their eight dining halls, and it should work towards avoiding cross-contamination to the degree it can. I might be labeled as too picky or too strict, but when I am paying nearly $2,800 a semester for a mandatory meal plan, I reserve the right to make a statement about it.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by individual writers in the opinion section do not reflect the views and opinions of The Daily Campus or other staff members. Only articles labeled “Editorial” are the official opinions of The Daily Campus.
Lavanya Sambaraju is a contributor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.