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UI receives average grade for vegan options

BY ABIGAIL MEIER | OCTOBER 16, 2013 5:00 AM

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With veganism and vegetarianism on the rise nationally, a recent report by the one animal-rights organization says the University of Iowa and many Iowa colleges aren’t doing enough to now meet these needs.

In its first-ever rankings report on Oct. 11, peta2, one of the largest youth animal-rights groups in the world, graded more than 2,000 U.S. colleges and universities and their attempts to cater to the vegan lifestyle.

Despite its C-grade on meeting vegan and vegetarian needs, several UI officials feel confident they  are on par with options offered by most schools. The satisfaction rates for vegan and vegetarian meals were based on a survey sent by the division under the guidance of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

Because the UI failed to respond to the vegan-food survey requests, peta2 said the information was solely based on public records and student feedback.

But one university official maintained that no survey was ever received.

“We don’t have an enormous number of students who follow vegan and vegetarian diets, but we certainly have them,” said UI dining director Jill Irvin.  “We need to make sure we are providing for them.” 

According to the survey, at least one labeled vegan entrée is offered with every meal in UI dining halls. Irvin confirmed non-dairy milk is also offered along with a vegetarian soup option.

In working with UI students over the past year and a half, JoAnn Daehler-Miller, a UI dietitian for Student Health and Wellness, said she has seen an increase in interest in vegan and vegetarian lifestyles.

“In terms of a vegan diet, I think it is very controversial over if it is a healthy lifestyle,” Daehler-Miller said, noting that vegan individuals are not getting certain nutrients and are instead taking supplements.

UI President Sally Mason said that to date, students have not come to her with concerns over the school’s offerings but noted that she is open to feedback.

“… If there is something that we’re doing or we’re not doing that they’d like to have us do — I’ll use the [Main Library] Learning Commons as a great example,” she said. “…When we asked the students what do they want in the Main Library, they told us, and we built it.”

Despite the UI’s average grade, the majority of Iowa colleges and universities fared much worse.

Twenty-two other Iowa colleges or universities scored lower than the UI, with the overwhelming majority, including Iowa State, Drake, and Upper Iowa University receiving an F.

“The most important [concern] to me is that I am meeting what is most important to our students,” said Iowa State dining director Nancy Keller.  “Right now the most important is cost, but when my students tell me it is important, you better believe I will take care of it.” 

Keller said she was very shocked by the results because Iowa State’s dining halls offers vegetarian choices every day.

UI freshman Victoria Hoffman said if the number of vegetarian-specific options were to increase on campus, more students would try the items out.

“I think if Iowa promoted it more, it would give more variety to students to try a healthier lifestyle,” she said.

Freshman Carlyn Recker said increased vegan options would be well-received by students.

“I wouldn’t say the UI doesn’t offer enough vegan food,” she said. “Even though I’m not a vegan and I don’t search for vegan food, I think a nice majority of students … would appreciate more vegan and vegetarian options.”

On a national scale, about 10 percent of Americans identify themselves as vegetarian and 1 to 2 percent as vegan, said Vandana Sheth, a registered dietician for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics — the world’s largest organization of food and nutrition professionals. 

“I think it is important for people to know that a vegetarian option can be a healthy diet for everyone, but recognizing that is about a completely balanced diet,” Sheth said.


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