Dining hall focuses on expanding options for those following vegetarian, vegan diets

Vegan and vegeterian students come together with senior dining facility administration to discuss ways to increase the amount of fresh produce and herbs offered in campus dining. Shreya Chidarala // Assistant Photo Editor
Vegan and vegetarian students come together with senior dining facility administration to discuss ways to increase the amount of fresh produce and herbs offered in campus dining. Shreya Chidarala // Assistant Photo Editor

The third meeting for vegan and vegetarian students was held at the Mahoney-Pearson dining hall last Wednesday, hosted by senior dining facility administration including the director of dining services, director of resident dining, director of operations, marketing manager, registered dietician and the Mahoney-Pearson dining hall manager.

Students and staff meet every other week to taste test new food, address comments and concerns, submit requests, receive updates on upcoming initiatives, learn about the preparation process of the vegan or vegetarian food and collaborate on incorporating new meal choices into the on-campus dining menu.

“We’re really looking to communicate and get feedback,” Director of Dining Services Michael Ross said. “This is the chance for us to learn about how we can fully provide for our vegans and vegetarians on campus.”

For Natalie Hickerson, a freshman vegan, the meetings are a matter of knowing the quality of what she is eating.

“The meetings give me a way to directly talk to the people making my food so that I’m able to eat on campus without issue,” said Hickerson. “I get to ensure that I get quality food that tastes good.”

The students relayed their thoughts on the dining experience and new options varying from ways to cook pasta and dessert requests to vegetable seasoning and favorite food and drink, openly discussing their preferences with staff. Some of the issues addressed at the meeting included incorrect labeling, meat or dairy-contaminated plating and food quality.

“We want people to feel comfortable bringing up issues to management if they’re unhappy or something is wrong, so we can make these corrections and provide the best dining experience possible and accommodate everyone,” Director of Operations Joey Sanchez said. “We really want to work on improving communication.”

In the last semester, resident dining services have worked to provide more variety for vegetarian and vegan students. Directors and those in management are working to increase the amount of fresh produce and herbs offered, as well as to find ways to improve meat substitutes. Through meetings and collaborating with new food vendors, the Stanford-Hecht and Mahoney-Pearson dining halls are bringing new dishes to the table.

“We’ve brought in vegan logs and veggie nuggets that are always available to students at the grill station, in addition to our garden burger, black bean burger and vegan burger,” Mahoney-Pearson Dining Hall Manager Krysta Samuel said.

The Stanford-Hecht dining hall opens its Cane Zone to all students during lunch, which serves vegan and vegetarian options including varieties of hummus, salads and pastas.

“I can’t always make it to the dining hall for lunch, but it’s nice to know that we have that extra assortment available,” sophomore vegetarian Sabrina Anand said.

In addition to the dining hall, the school works with vendors to bring vegan options to the food court, including Fresh Fusion in the Donna E. Shalala Student Center, which caters to vegetarian and vegan customers, and fresh-pressed juice that is now offered in Outtakes.

“We really work with outside people to try and negotiate a good price so we can continue to provide new, healthy and delicious food and drink to everyone,” Ross said.

Hickerson believes they have improved quality and variety for vegan and vegetarian students.

“I’ve been pleasantly surprised with what’s here,” Hickerson said. “There’s plenty of options, and it’s great that I don’t have to eat salad every day.”

However, the dining service department continues to work to provide satisfaction and balanced nutrition to vegan and vegetarian students who are dining on campus.

“The hardest thing for us is getting feedback. If [you] have ideas, please relay them to us. If there’s something wrong, we can correct it; if something is going well, we can reinforce it and progress in bettering our service,” Ross said.

To learn about new initiatives, events and updates, follow UM Dining on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, or use #UMDining to have your message or picture posted on the social media feed in the food court.