Pass the Tofu Please

I’m a vegetarian and I love to eat. (Seriously, just watch me chow down some of my Cuban mother’s bean stews with giant helpingsfull of rice.) But, recently, being able to eat healthily at school has become a problem.

At the beginning of this semester, the cafeteria closed the much beloved vegetarian and tofu oasis adorably named “The Wild Mushroom” in favor for introducing an allergen-free bar called “Simple Servings.” While the introduction of an allergen-free station is definitely a welcome addition, the closures of both the vegetarian and stir fry bars drastically limit the entree choices of vegetarians and vegans, not to mention meat-eaters that might prefer a vegetarian option.

SarahFor the curious, a vegetarian plate is much like a meat-eater’s; a nutritional balance separated into protein, plants, and grains (but sans meat in the vegetarian’s case.) A good vegetarian entree (read: “main dish”) possesses the qualities of being healthy, hot, flavorful, and generally includes a protein source like beans or soy. Regretfully, we have seen too few entrees of that nature in the cafeteria this semester and the vegetarian population on campus, not just myself, have become concerned.

For example, if you’ve been following the cafeteria comment board, comments by fellow vegetarians calling for viable vegetarian entrees have been prolific since the new changes. Unfortunately, the official responses to these requests seem to be misunderstanding the problem. In response to a request asking for more vegetarian entrees, the cafeteria respondent to the comment proceeded to list “options” (not “entrees”) which included, of all things, a listing for bagels. (Yes, bagels are good for breakfast, but they are not what vegetarians can eat everyday for dinner or lunch.) The other “options” listed in the response included vegetable side dishes to the main line meals (which, as we all know, are often unseasoned), cold salads, soups (which I have learned not to trust since accidentally ingesting some made with meat-based broth), and the very rare entree.

Some fellow vegetarians and I (plus some meat-eating friends) have gotten creative in response to these developments. We now combine our resources, spend money on extra groceries, and cook a huge vegetarian meal together every Friday evening. I’ve loved every minute of that fellowship and it feels good to have a belly full of delicious food. However, is it right that I’m spending money that I don’t have on extra food when I’m already paying for a pre-paid meal plan?

On that note, it could be said that perhaps the cafeteria is merely responding to the larger financial crisis impacting our campus, prompted by the drop in enrollment. A smaller student body means a more limited ability to purchase a variety of food, thus prompting the cafeteria to limit some options. However, the point stands that while meat-eaters can enjoy both vegetarian and meat options, vegetarians cannot eat the meat options. What are we supposed to do?

The campus cafeteria gets many things right; the addition of the allergen-free bar is one of them. However, the closure of the vegetarian and stir fry bars is a definite wrong. Not only does it fail take into account the diversity of student eating patterns and convictions, but it is a health concern for those that eat here as well. The good news is that it appears as if the situation has been turning around in the past week; I’ve had more options available at the various stations. I’m hoping that these options are here to stay.

Now, pass the baked ginger tofu and the kale quiche, please.

The opinions and views expressed in the Houghton Star do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of Houghton College or the Wesleyan Church (our sponsoring denomination).

4 Comments

  1. Hello my family member! I wish to say that this post is amazing, nicee written and includse almost all important infos.

    I’d like to peer more posts like this .

  2. YES. YES. YES!
    I know this is an old story, but I just discovered that this website exists and came across it. This is still a HUGE problem even months later. I have been a vegetarian for ethical reasons since I was 7, and it is an enormous part of my life and who I am. I have very strong feelings about my vegetarianism. However, I happen to be underweight and it is very hard for me to put on weight even if I do have access to large amounts of food. Therefore, since I am extremely limited in options at the dining hall, I have only managed to maintain this unhealthy weight, or lose weight… I, too, was very upset when they got rid of The Wild Mushroom, because Simple Servings rules out several sources of protein for vegetarians (nuts, soy, milk, eggs) and now serves meat where a vegetarian dish could be offered, leaving only side dishes. I can very rarely have a balanced meal unless I want to eat the same thing every day, like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or something. Even then, none of that is going to help me gain weight in the least.
    I attended a meeting with a couple of the workers a long time ago to discuss my dietary needs, since I don’t eat whey or cheese unless it’s made with vegetable rennet, or gelatin, etc. – anything that comes from a dead animal. They seemed to understand my concerns and told me what they would try to do to make it better. Things worked out for a few weeks and then fell apart again, of course making it even worse when The Wild Mushroom was removed. I sent a long email to one of the Sodexo workers about my concerns and never received a response. One day, I heard another one of the chefs explaining to someone that vegetarians have a choice and people with allergies don’t, so that is why they prioritized them. I don’t think this kind of reasoning is fair at all. If anything, BOTH needs should be met, and they definitely are not. I strongly agree with your statement that “while meat-eaters can enjoy both vegetarian and meat options, vegetarians cannot eat the meat options”, but I think that more priority should be given to vegan options, since I can’t eat cheese. Almost ANYONE can eat vegan options, so why not have more? (Not just vegetables or side dishes, please…) It’s incredibly frustrating to me that I cannot get a fully-balanced meal at the dining hall, and that despite expressing my frustrations, I haven’t seen many positive changes. There is much more that I could rant on this right now, but you get the point. I don’t think this is acceptable and I feel that vegetarians/vegans are not being accommodated for very well at all on this campus as a whole.

    • Hi Eloise,

      This is Sarah, the author of this editorial–and I’m to hear that another veg agrees with me! I have also been having trouble with keeping up my weight. I was sick for six months last year and lost a lot of weight as a result. I’ve been trying to gain back what I lost, but the change in the dining hall has actually been causing me to lose even more weight! That was primarily why I wanted to write this piece–I was tired of stepping off the scale and losing another pound due to the lack of viable entrees.

      There’s a part of me that thinks that the response we’ve been getting from the cafeteria may be an effect of a wider cultural problem. Often, in the wider world, I think that vegetarians/vegans are accused of being too self-righteous or preachy (or they just make people uncomfortable with their eating choices), which makes people less inclined to treat vegs’ choices and beliefs seriously. It’s unfair: vegetarians make the lifestyle choices they do for a variety of reasons–moral, physical, spiritual, or to promote a change in the world. Adherence to convictions, even if it steps out of the established way of life, is something to be respected. (By the way, we’re a pretty progressive, diverse campus–you would think that a veg lifestyle wouldn’t be too far out of the norm!)

      I don’t know what else to do about it, other than write a comment card or write an editorial like this one to help them notice. Would you be interested in send a letter to the editor to voice your complaints? Letters to the editor should be 250 words or less and must be sent to editor@houghtonstar.com.

      • Sarah,

        Sorry I didn’t see your response until now – I never got a notification or anything, but I happened to check out of curiosity. Thanks for replying! I’ve never written a letter to the editor before, but I will consider it. If everything works out properly, I’m hoping to cancel my meal plan next semester since I’m getting married this summer (to someone who’s been working on going vegetarian as well – yay!) Even though I probably won’t be eating at the dining hall as much later on, I still think that something needs to be done about it. Unfortunately, this semester’s coming to an end and I doubt anything will be changed in the near future. Since they’re having trouble pleasing both gluten-free people and vegetarians, why not focus a lot more on gluten-free vegan options? That way everyone could be happy.

        Anyway, it has been especially hard for me on campus regarding animal rennet, gelatin, etc. (No pizza or chips at Big Al’s, for example.) At one of the meetings I attended, I was told that the dining hall would try to make non-animal rennet cheese available (it’s not too hard to come by, since even Shop N’ Save in Fillmore carries McCadam cheese) but never heard anything about it since. I would appreciate it if they at least responded to the long email I sent a while back, but I gave up trying. :( I’m sorry to hear about your weight problem and I totally understand. I also agree with what you said in the second paragraph. :)

The Houghton Star reserves the right to publish comments in any medium.