As a vegan living on a college campus, I don’t expect to have endless options or the best food anyone could ask for. But, I do expect to be able to put together a full, well-balanced meal.
This term, with the disappearance of a section that often rounded out my meal and that is now just unlabelled bread, among other things, I’ve struggled each day to make a full, healthy meal in the Hard Knox Cafe.
I’m not the type of person to immediately put people and places on blast when I have complaints, so I want to assure you that I’ve spoken to Dining Services about this problem. Their answer was that they can label the bread for me, and that didn’t even happen.
The unlabelled bread doesn’t bother me as much as the complete lack of variety and quantity of vegetables. I don’t want to have zucchini, squash and broccoli everyday. They’re bland and get old quickly.
Beyond that, sometimes the only vegan vegetables available are the one or two options in the vegan section. One day a few weeks ago, the only vegan vegetable available was caramelized onions and mushrooms in the vegan section. How am I expected to have a well-rounded meal when my vegetable options are caramelized onion and mushrooms or nothing at all?
Most days, I survive on applesauce, stir fries and the salad section. It seems that even the salad toppings have suffered this term. There’s no variety, so that quickly gets old too.
The premade salads have been unreliable all term. I have to carefully check all of the ingredients before I pick one to eat. There was a Nigerian Salad that was labelled vegan but clearly listed eggs and mayonnaise as ingredients. I told a cafeteria worker, but the label sat unchanged for at least four days.
During my time at Knox, the labelling system in general has been unreliable, especially toward the end of each term. I’m not sure whether it’s simple mistakes, laziness or workers who are unaware of what veganism is. I once had a cafeteria worker tell me that something wasn’t vegan because it had corn syrup and sugar in it.
The one piece of advice that Dining Services seems to have taken from vegan students is to make some vegan desserts, but what good is that if we’re unable to put together a full meal in the first place?
I’ve also become frustrated with the ease that otherwise vegan products can be cross-contaminated. Just a few days ago, the cafeteria had a taco bar. The sour cream was placed next to the diced tomatoes. Someone took the spoon from the diced tomatoes, used it to get sour cream, then put it back in the tomatoes.
That ruins the whole container of tomatoes for me and any other vegans. It happens with the salad dressings as well and could be easily avoided if there were a separation between the two.
I have three requests for anyone from Dining Services who may be reading this: 1.) Check your labels. If you aren’t sure if something is vegan or not, ask someone who knows, 2.) Please offer a variety of different vegetables seasoned without honey or butter at each meal, 3.) Try to keep things simple. We don’t want watermelon ham or a carrot-based “cheese” sauce. We’re happy with steamed vegetables and regular recipes with whatever modifications are necessary to make them vegan. Often I think the problems arise when vegan recipes become too complicated and are overthought.
I appreciate the efforts of Bon Appetit. I’m grateful that vegan options are even offered and that some of my suggestions will be taken, but this term’s vegan options have been a massive disappointment with only a few bright spots here and there. It’s been a step down from what I came to expect last year.