Beyond the salad

Carnegie Mellon isn’t a bad place to be if you’re a vegetarian.

Recent changes by Housing and Dining Services have been emphasizing friendliness to vegetarians, including a new restaurant in the University Center, new and expanded menu items across campus, and new options in the new convenience center Entropy+.

“We know that vegetarianism is becoming a bigger and bigger trend on campus, and we’re doing everything we can to accommodate it,” said Ryan Rearick, assistant director of Housing and Dining.

The recent push has been largely due to feedback from students and the Carnegie Mellon community, according to Rearick. One of the most consistent complaints among students had been the lack of vegetarian dining options.

Vegetarianism and veganism are on an upward trend in college students across the country. A 1999 report by the National Restaurant Association estimated that as many as 20 percent of college students consider themselves vegetarians, and projected that the number would rise. A 2005 report by hospitality services giant Aramark discovered that one-quarter of nearly 100,000 college students surveyed said that finding vegan menu options on campus was important to them.

In response, Housing and Dining initiated a series of steps designed to fix the problem. First was implementation of the Crunch program, which consists of signs at dining locations indicating what menu items at each location are vegetarian or vegan.

The Crunch program was not actually an addition of new menu items, but just “advertising what we already had,” said Rearick. According to Rearick, a big part of the problem was that students weren’t aware of what vegetarian options already existed.

“Some folks were just going to the same places over and over because they knew they could get [vegetarian] stuff there,” he said.

Housing and Dining also expanded vegetarian options in Schatz Dining Room last year in conjunction with the Crunch program. In addition, dining locations on campus extended their hours to provide vegetarian students more options for dinner.

This year, the centerpiece of Housing and Dining’s vegetarian thrust is the opening of a new restaurant in the University Center. The restaurant is called Evgefstos! (The name is not as unpronounceable as it appears if broken down into three syllables: Ev-gef-stos.)

“The word is Greek for ‘delicious and tasty,’” Rearick said.

Evgefstos! offers a 100 percent vegetarian and vegan menu based around Mediterranean cuisines. The restaurant features hot entrees and cold salads as well as pre-packaged items. Students can choose from one of several entrees or can eat in a more a la carte style. “It has more of a tapas bar kind of feel, but you can still get a good meal,” Rearick said.

On the whole, student response to the new restaurant has been positive, Rearick said. The Dining Advisory Council, which contains students, staff, and faculty, has already received positive input.

“We were expecting it to make a splash, and it really seems to have done so,” Rearick said.

Another aspect of Housing and Dining’s approach to vegetarian dining is through a registered nutritionist, Paula Martin. Martin is now in her third year at Health Services and has extensive experience working with the nutritional needs of students.

The nutritionist is available for appointments to provide nutrition advice and counseling to individual students. This service is available to all students regardless of dietary restrictions, but may be particularly useful to vegetarians or those considering vegetarianism and are looking for advice into how to structure their diets.

Martin also provides nutritional information through the Health Services website. There is a section of the site devoted to vegetarianism, which includes dietary advice, quick meal ideas, and links to vegetarian resources outside the university.

Rearick reports mostly positive feedback from vegetarian students. However, there are several consistent concerns about vegetarian dining on campus.

One issue mentioned frequently among students both vegetarian and non is the cost of dining. Vegetarian options on campus are not any more expensive than their meat-containing counterparts — but they aren’t any cheaper, either. Vegetarian entrees typically cost as much as meat entrees.

In addition, vegetarian meals often contain fatty foods like cheese to compensate for the lack of meat, making them relatively unhealthy. This may be a deterrent to students interested in eating vegetarian for health benefits.

“Unlike most students, I don’t really have a problem with campus dining,” said Benjamin Saalbach-Walsh, a senior creative writing major. Aside from being a longtime vegetarian, Saalbach-Walsh is an active member of the Neville Co-op and Voices for Animals.

Saalbach-Walsh, like many vegetarian and non-vegetarian students, chooses to cook most of his food at home. In order to maintain an ecologically responsible vegetarian lifestyle, he prefers to buy most of his food at the East End Food Co-op, which sells organic and locally grown produce.

Many students are interested in seeing more locally grown and ecologically sound food being served on campus. Saalbach-Walsh was involved in the campaign to get Housing and Dining Services to switch to certified cage-free eggs — eggs from chickens raised in more humane conditions.

However, not all vegetarian students have such strong ideals for choosing not to eat on campus. Lauren Heller, a recent Carnegie Mellon alumna, also preferred to cook at home in her off-campus apartment when she was a student. Her reasons for not eating on campus were partly due to price, but also because she saw most of the meals on campus as being unbalanced or unhealthy.

“My options were mostly limited to French fries and deep-fried cheese products,” she said.

Rearick emphasized that concerns and complaints can be directed to the Dining Advisory Council, which works closely with Housing and Dining to improve dining based on student feedback.

Vegetarian students who are looking for more off-campus options can also check out the wide array of vegetarian and vegetarian-friendly options in the greater Pittsburgh community. Of note are Zenith Café on the South Side and Quiet Storm in Garfield, both relatively easy bus rides from campus and offering 100 percent vegetarian menus.

Just because the food is vegetarian doesn’t mean it isn’t still good. “We’re friendly to meat-eaters, too,” said Elaine Smith, owner of the Zenith Café.

Additionally, affordable vegetarian meals can be purchased at most of the food trucks on Margaret Morrison Street. Sree’s Foods and Open Flame Foods offer vegetarian entrees, and tofu can be substituted for meat at the other trucks.

However, both Heller and Saalbach-Walsh agreed that dining is changing on campus for vegetarians.

“Things certainly seem to be improving compared to when I was a student,” Heller said.