PETA2 considers Wes for title of most veg-friendly
To conclude a week of elections, Wesleyan University has advanced to round two in the PETA2.com contest for the title of Most-Vegetarian Friendly College in the country. The contest, in its third year, judges universities and colleges on the consistency, quality, and availability of their meatless meals. Based on student responses and research, PETA.com chose 32 finalists for the competition, consisting of 18 schools from the United States and 16 from Canada. The winner will be announced on November 17th.
PETA2.com, the youth division of the animal rights organization PETA, works with thousands of students across the nation to raise awareness of animal rights issues. They have now taken their mission to the kitchen.
“We received input through Facebook, Myspace, and e-mail about positive and negative experiences that students were having with vegetarian meals on campus,” said Ryan Huling, the College Campaign Coordinator for PETA2.com “We wanted to highlight schools like Wesleyan, whose vegetarian and vegan options are among the tastiest in the nation.”
The contest runs on a bracket system of four rounds, with two separate brackets for the American and Canadian Universities, and includes schools such as Yale University and last year's winner Northwestern University. Votes can be cast once per day per e-mail address, and the population of the school is taken into account when assessing the winner. In addition to student votes, schools are evaluated on criteria such as the reliability of the dining staff to respond to student meal requests and the school's dedication to providing vegetarian options.
Bon Appétit staff were eager to take part in the competition and showcase their work.
“We got a phone call from PETA saying that we were nominated,” Executive Chef Jon Hutchinson said. “Then we sent in a few pictures and recipes of our vegan and vegetarian food.”
Hutchinson described one of the six recipes submitted, a barbeque seitan wrap with toasted red pepper humus and cumin-scented pita triangles. He noted the difference between the vegetarian and vegan cooking at the University and at his former workplace at St. John Fischer in Rochester, N.Y., where there were far fewer and less appealing vegetarian options.
“We don't have standardized recipes or repetitive menus; we have a lot of freedom,” said Hutchinson. “We use fresh, local vegetables and really watch seasonality… As things come in, we see what produce we have, and then set our menus. Everything is made fresh and in-house… we make our own stocks from scratch and we do not use any manufactured bases for our soups.”
Hutchinson emphasized the importance of Bon Appétit's use of local produce suppliers, which help to lower carbon emissions and decrease the shipping and refrigeration time of the food.
Huling sees these types of changes as a part of a wider shift across the country towards healthier, more available meatless options, noting that Wendy's and Burger King now offer veggie burgers, and that Wal-Mart now carries Silk soymilk. He said that one in four students claim to be actively seeking vegan options, due to a variety of health, environmental and animal rights concerns.
“You didn't see this ten years ago,” Huling said. “There is a drastic shift toward healthier and more humane options, and college campuses tend to be a little ahead of the general population.”
At the University, Bon Appétit employee Bernice Laille has been active in promoting the contest to the student body and in generating campus excitement for what she sees as a show of school and employee pride. A link has been placed on the Bon Appétit website, encouraging students to visit PETA2.com and to place their vote for Wesleyan in the college section of the website. Bon Appétit employees have also set up tables with laptops at different locations around campus, urging students to vote and enticing them with stickers and free coffee vouchers.
“There has been a big turnout,” Laille said. “We usually do a lunch session—at one of them there were twenty [students], at another forty.”
Laille was very happy to hear about the results of round one, saying that students should continue to cast their votes for Wesleyan in round two, which ends Nov. 12.
“This has been quite a success and the heat is on for round two,” Laille said.
Melanie Brady ’12 isn't vegan or vegetarian, but says she does sometimes enjoy eating from the vegan ’Fresco' section at the Usdan Marketplace dining hall.
“I think it's good that they have it there and it's pretty cool that we have some of the best food in the nation,” Brady said.
Linden Brown ’09 also eats from the vegan and vegetarian section, but misses the variety that used to be offered by Aramark through the Vegan Café, which was located on the third floor of the former Davenport Campus Center.
“I feel like the quality of the food itself is slightly better than Aramark, but the options are fewer,” Brown said.
For Bon Appétit Resident District Manager Michael Strumpf, the PETA2 contest is about acknowledging the dedication of the employees and chefs in maintaining sustainable menus and in responding to student dietary demands.
“This is about our employees, the vegan cooks who are working for us, and the pride they take in their work should get recognized,” Strumpf said. “I think it's a great thing.”