Dining in a vegetarian desert


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Despite attempts to offer a variety of options at the dining halls, vegetarian students may find themselves at a disadvantage, both health-wise and financially.

“I could not survive just eating vegetarian options that were on the menu,” University of Iowa senior and vegetarian Chance Lacina said. “It seemed like it was just spaghetti or cheese pizza every day.”

In the last year, University Housing and Dining has tried to find new menu items and dishes to serve to students.

“I would say that we are always looking for different things to serve,” said Jill Irvin, the director of University Dining. “It’s very possible that we have added some vegetarian menu items for this past academic year.”

Some options aren’t openly available and have to be requested at the counter, such as veggie burgers.

According to a 2012 Gallup Poll, around 5 percent of people identify as vegetarian in the United States.

However, dining officials find it “challenging to put out menu items with appeal,” Irvin said.

The issue at hand, she said, is the difficulty for directors and kitchen staff to prepare healthy, yet tasty, foods in a way that also appeals to students.

“We may get comments periodically from people about how much variety we might have in our vegetarian menu, but no matter how hard I try, I can’t make what your mom makes,” Irvin said.

Some students said the real problem seems to lie in the repetition of food choices, not leaving any variety in their nutritional intake.

“I don’t want to get cheese pizza all the time, or just fries, or just fruit,” said UI freshman and vegetarian Ridhi Jani. “I feel like I have the same thing every single day.”

Because of insufficient vegetarian options, Jani said, she is forced to find other places to eat.

“I end up eating out a lot,” she said. “I feel like it’s a waste because I have unlimited swipes at the dining halls.”

When residing in the UI residence halls, students must choose a meal plan giving them access to the dining halls.

“It’s terrible,” Lacina said. “If you’re in the dorms, you’re forced to buy a meal plan.”

If they do not live in Mayflower, which includes a kitchen, students must purchase a Black or Gold meal plan — which cost $1,525 and $1,687.50 per semester for a certain number of swipes, respectively — even if the student doesn’t use the meal plan.

“Being in the dorms and having to pay for the meal plan is unfair if you’re a vegetarian,” Lacina said. “It’s a waste of money.”

Mayflower residents can purchase a cheaper meal plan with fewer swipes.

Burge Marketplace has made ongoing attempts to offer more variety through opening “more action stations,” Anne Harkins, the Burge Marketplace manager, wrote in an email.

At an action station, food is made to order, such as the omelet or stir-fry stations.

Despite attempts to offer more options, some vegetarian students said they feel more action and thought is necessary for University Housing and Dining to adjust dining halls fairly.

“They should have vegetarian versions of every menu item — like imitation meat,” Lacina said. “They could easily fix this.”

Correction: In the Feb. 17 article “Dining in a vegetarian desert,” The Daily Iowan incorrectly quoted UI Director of Dining Jill Irvin. “We always try to do better, but no matter how hard I try, I can’t make what your mom makes,” she actually said. “Beyond that, we may get comments periodically from people about how much variety we might have in our vegetarian-menu items, but in most cases they are not aware of our vegetarian-menu options.” The DI regrets the error.

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