The performative sustainability of UConn’s Plant-Based Café

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“Based on the survey, we have a lot of people on campus who feel we serve too many vegan/vegetarian dishes and they feel for the money they pay for meal plans they should have more meat,” Photo courtesy of Alena Koval from Pexels

Early in the spring 2021 semester, UConn dining services sent out a survey aiming to gauge interest in a specialty plant-based café on campus. Eager to find out more, I booked a meeting with Rob Landolphi and Scott Hauver, assistant director of Culinary Development and assistant director of Retail Operations, respectively.  

“Based on the survey, we have a lot of people on campus who feel we serve too many vegan/vegetarian dishes and they feel for the money they pay for meal plans they should have more meat,” Landolphi said. 

However, the survey doesn’t seem to suggest a need to play it safe. Only 4.22% of the 3000 student’s survey expressed there are “too many [plant-based options], please don’t add more.”  

Additionally, the survey reported a combined amount of over 90% of respondents believed a plant-based café would benefit the UConn community. 

In a follow-up email to Landolphi, I proposed putting together an educational workshop regarding veganism and/or plant-based eating. To this, Landolphi said: 

“We have to take baby steps and not offend anyone, even meat eaters, because our ultimate goal at first is to convince them that vegan/vegetarian food is delicious and obviously healthier.” 

On Monday, March 22, 2021, I attended the first taste test for the now-approved plant-based café, which consisted of a variety of new and old products offered by UConn Retail Services.  

Maddie also expressed dissatisfaction with the direction of the menu and UConn’s excessive caution with vegan food. While the appeal of the “plant-based” label by corporate bodies is understandable, it dilutes the movement to mere vegetarianism rather than veganism with individual flexibility.  

To my surprise, I also found that Maddie Pickett, the student who proposed this project to the UConn team, had similar ideas to me: an educational forum, workshops, flyers, posters, etc.  

Maddie also expressed dissatisfaction with the direction of the menu and UConn’s excessive caution with vegan food. While the appeal of the “plant-based” label by corporate bodies is understandable, it dilutes the movement to mere vegetarianism rather than veganism with individual flexibility.  

I urge UConn to not “tread lightly” in the name of taste preferences, but to take a stand against animal cruelty, environmental destruction and push for plant-based health objectives.  

Most importantly, let’s make UConn’s new café a hit and push them toward a truly plant-based menu, by choosing to buy the vegan options upon its opening in Fall 2021!  

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