Oh Kale No! A Dearth of Vegan Options on Campus
The University at Albany students are finding the plant-based food options on campus to be inadequate. Many students would like to limit their consumption of animal products, whether for the health benefits or to avoid contributing to animal suffering and environmental degradation. The university should respect and support the ethical commitment of these students by providing sufficient plant-based options in the dining halls and Campus Center.
Plant-based foods can be varied and delicious. Favorites such as pizza, burritos, mac and cheese, and chocolate cake can be enjoyed without any animal-derived ingredients. Vegan food is increasingly available at restaurant chains such as Taco Bell, Blaze Pizza, Chipotle, and D.P. Dough. Mainstream supermarkets are selling vegan meat. Taste-testers on the Today Show couldn’t tell that this “meat” wasn’t from an animal.
Unfortunately for UAlbany students, plant-based food choices in the dining halls are scarce. On its website, UAlbany Dining claims to accommodate vegans, but in reality vegans living in the dorms have difficulty obtaining filling and nutritionally balanced meals. The options listed online are limited, and even those that are advertised are often not available. Some vegan dishes are mislabeled, making them difficult to identify.
The university has a responsibility to meet the needs of its students, including vegans; but the arguments in favor of providing more plant-based options go far beyond that. Plant-based foods are more environmentally sustainable: according to the United Nations report “Livestock’s Long Shadow”, animal agriculture contributes more to global warming than does the transportation sector worldwide. Animal products come from an industry built on systematic animal abuse, and human workers in slaughterhouses and factory farms are frequently the victims of human rights violations. According to the American Dietetic Association, a well-planned vegan diet is healthful and nutritionally adequate at any stage of life, and is suitable for athletes. The ADA also states that following a plant-based diet may help treat or prevent certain diseases, a claim which is supported by countless studies on diseases such as heart disease and breast cancer.
With so many reasons to cut back on animal products, UAlbany Dining and Sodexo should be encouraging students to do it, not discouraging them. To make matters worse, students living on the quads are required to buy a dining plan, meaning that currently many of our vegan students are forced to pay for a service that is not meeting their needs. As a rule, freshmen must live in the dorms, so for them opting out is not an option. Some students resort to buying their own food off-campus to supplement the insufficient options in the dining halls; others, having paid the not-insignificant cost of a dining plan, can’t afford to.
UAlbany should increase the quantity and variety of plant-based options available. By doing so, they would prove their commitment to the environment and to student health, and would enable students to make food choices consistent with their ethical convictions.