Dining Services provide healthy options on campus

Josh Echt

Dining Services now has a wide selection of vegetarian menu items. Mike Reynolds, junior geology major, cooks up some Tsao Tofu yesterday at the Eastway Caf‚. STEPHANIE J. SMITH | DAILY KENT STATER

Credit: Carl Schierhorn

Two women grab their trays and head into the bustling, well-lit Eastway Center cafeteria.

“What’s there to eat?” asks Amy Thompson, junior fine arts major.

“I don’t know,” sophomore psychology major Mona Patel replies. The two are normal students, except for one thing: They are vegetarians.

As they head for the salad bar, a friend comes over and raves to them about the vegetarian-only hot food station’s casserole. The station was started last fall, Thompson says.

“They’ve got something hot tonight!” the girl shouts.

Thompson has been a vegetarian for one and a half years.

“It’s been something I’d been thinking about for a while,” she said. She grew up on a farm and said she learned about food production, helping her decision. She said she doesn’t like ingesting food that may be contaminated with hormones and chemicals.

Thompson said Eastway Center offers vegetarian stir-fry food, but the salad bar is a vegetarian staple.

“To us, the salad bar is like someone else’s hamburger,” Thompson said.

She sometimes eats toasted cheese, pizza or vegetable soup. The fruit station is the highlight of her jaunt around the cafeteria.

“The granola is the best because it is so intense,” she said.

Dining Services offers convenience at reasonable price

Dining Services offers students convenience, said Mark Lewis, dining services general manager, while looking at the sofas and tables scattered across the cafeteria.

“We try to make the students feel at home,” he said. Eastway Center is the busiest of Dining Services’ 20 facilities on campus, employing 45 student workers daily and five to six full-time employees.

Concerns about healthy options are valid because the cafeteria must serve an average of 2,500 students per day, Lewis said.

“We go by what’s popular. Students will always want a cheeseburger, but we incorporate healthy options with that cheeseburger,” Lewis said.

Senior executive chef Kurt Brown said Dining Services offers five different vegetarian choices.

He also said Dining Services uses a computer in the kitchen to access healthy recipes online for the chefs.

An alternative option

Alternative dining options for students, especially off-campus students, come in the form of alternative foods, found at the Kent Natural Foods Co-op, 151 E. Main St., in downtown Kent. The store, open since 1970, draws about 100 customers daily.

Co-manager Kim Plough said she enjoys the variety of organic food the store sells.

“We sell “grab-and-go” food, but most has to be home-cooked,” Plough said.

Co-manager Cindy Bissell said food sold at the store is chemical- and additive-free. Every organic farmer is inspected every three to five years, Bissell said. She also said locally grown food is healthier for consumers.

Most students come from off-campus locations, Bissell said. The store also caters to vegetarians, providing meat alternatives such as tofu.

Healthy collaboration between department, Dining Services

Jeffrey Jones, senior healthcare administration major, said living off campus provides one the ability to control food preparation.

“You can control what you do, by choosing a little bit of oil or a lot,” said Jones, student assistant for the Office of Health Promotion.

Jones and Dining Services is planning a “Five-a-Day” campaign, which educates students on the importance of eating five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables daily, he said.

The Office of Health Promotion at Kent State University received a $1,000 grant from the Ohio College Health Association in May 2005 and decided to go this route, Jones said.

“Kids may not take that option, but it is there,” he said.

Vegetarians face challenges

Thompson said she has helped Dining Services deal with vegetarians’ needs.

Recently, she said she was on a food committee that evaluated Dining Services’ facilities. The committee ate at one cafeteria, wrote about the alternative food options and presented their findings to the department.

An important part of being a vegetarian, Thompson said, is adapting to different foods.

“Contrary to what everyone thinks, the diet isn’t that restrictive,” she said. “I think I get to taste more different foods versus a normal eater.”

A challenge of becoming vegetarian, she says, is the decision not to eat at fast-food places.

“If you’ve never had to think about what you had to eat before, it would be even harder to adapt. A lot of people don’t think about what they eat,” Thompson said.

Contact features correspondent Josh Echt at [email protected].