Dining Services revamping vegan and vegetarian options on campus

Photo+by+Sam+Verbulecz.

Photo by Sam Verbulecz.

Ryan Lewis

Kent State Dining Services is continuing its recent commitment to providing a variety of quality foods available to those interested in vegan and vegetarian diets on campus.

Dining Services Director Richard Roldan said the university will frequently revamp all of its menus on campus, though the need for other diet plans — vegan, vegetarian and even others like gluten-free — has increased over recent years. Roldan has made it an objective to keep up with the flowing trends.

“It’s an ongoing process for us,” Roldan said. “We’re always looking at what’s trendy, but we also do that with all of our menus. Our chefs have several books on these diets, and we are always playing with recipes because the students who follow the vegan way need the amino acids and those types of things.”

Three years ago, Kent State wasn’t doing enough for its vegan constituents, according to the organization People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. PETA contacted Kent State expressing concerns.

“We took a hard look at what we were doing as a program and saw that we had some things, but they weren’t very viable options,” Roldan said. “We had things like tofu, but that gets tiresome. So we wanted to rethink what we were doing with our program and bring in some proteins and other fresh vegetables and legumes that have higher proteins and amino acids in them to create some new recipes.”

Since that time, PETA has recognized Kent State’s efforts twice. The university was named as an Honorable Mention for “Most Vegan-Friendly” among large American colleges by PETA in 2010 and was a nominee in 2011.

Kent State now keeps many diet-specialty foods in freezers that students can get by simply asking for them. One of the problems with increasing vegan or gluten-free options is that they can’t sit out due to a low number of interested students. Because of this, they’re kept fresh in a freezer for a period of time.

The University has also begun two programs, Veggie A-Go-Go and “Pure Station,” in recent years to add fresh items for vegan or vegetarian students.

Veggie A-Go-Go allows students to call ahead to Eastway or Prentice Cafés and make an order that they can later pick up. This allows any specialty foods to be made fresh.

The “Pure Station” Initiative came about after Dining Services fielded concerns from students about a lack of natural, organic options available on campus. Roldan went to work adding organic chicken and other proteins and veggies in a new format. This includes two entrees, a side and a veggie that are all organic. Roldan says this option is a little bit more expensive, but students may tailor their meals to their own specific needs.

John Goehler, senior associate director of Dining Services and executive chef, said this vegetarian movement wasn’t always the case.

“I came here in 1981, and there weren’t vegetarians, weren’t any vegans, no one had any allergies,” Goehler said. “It’s just progressed. It hasn’t been all at one time, but now we have all these different options.”

Goehler began cooking monthly to cater to students looking for healthier options before spending time with cookbooks and trends to come up with new recipes.

That time spent coming up with new options — along with the specialized food itself — comes at a price.

Food and labor rates increase regularly, and in order for Dining Services to maintain a balanced budget, meal plan rates need to follow suit.

Roldan says food has increased at a rate of 6-7.5 percent this past year, about 4 percent more than the normal annual increase. Last year also saw a minimum wage increase for students. In response, this year’s meal plan rates will see a 3.9 percent increase.

“We try to balance our budget to pretty much break even,” Roldan said. “We look at the cost and try to keep the increases at a minimal. We try to keep it under the 4-percent mark.”

Contact Ryan Lewis at [email protected].