Vegetarian options at UB are limited, especially diversity

College dining lags behind the past decade’s growth of vegetarianism

Vegetarianism is going mainstream.

Once seen as a “fringe” lifestyle, the idea of a meatless diet in the United States has come to its own, maturing from its roots among the hippies, environmentalists and radical activists of the ’60s and ’70s and entering into the popular dialogue.

Every year more and more people are choosing to eat less meat or to cut meat out of their lifestyle completely. Some go as far as to eliminate animal products from their menus completely.

Take, for instance, the nearly threefold increase in the number of Americans who follow a vegan diet from 2009 and the 12.2 percent drop in meat consumption between 2007 and 2012.

For a wide range of reasons, consumers across the country are demanding alternatives to the meat-centered diet that has come to characterize American nutrition.

The Harris Interactive Service Bureau found that concern for animal welfare is the leading reason cited for a vegetarian lifestyle, closely followed by health and environmental concerns.

With 42 percent of vegetarians in the 18-35 age demographic, health-conscious young people are at the core of this shift in dietary trends.

But for many college students, a plant-based diet doesn’t necessarily equate to the healthy lifestyle many vegetarians pursue. Unfortunately, universities may be to blame.

There is, simply put, a dearth of healthy vegetarian and vegan options at campus dining centers, including at UB.

Other than light salads and grain-based options like pizza – which is unsuitable for vegans – Campus Dining & Shops (CDS) suffers from a scarcity of nutritious vegetarian food.

For lack of substantial plant-based meals, vegetarians who depend primarily on campus dining often end up resorting to carbohydrate-heavy foods.

While avoiding some of the health pitfalls of a meat-based diet, limited dietary options can push vegetarians to protein deficiency and excessive carb consumption, which can contribute to weight problems, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Such a high-carb, nutrient deficient diet is not a viable option for someone concerned with his or her health.

While UB’s buffet-style dining halls are making progress in this area by offering a diverse and palatable range of vegetarian dishes from around the world, popular food hubs like Putnam’s and the Capen Café offer relatively little in the way of prepared vegetarian food items. Even in the dining halls, vegan-prepared items may be nonexistent on any given night.

It is also important to consider that, on a campus as diverse as UB’s, many students’ diets are subject to cultural and religious restrictions.

The same commendable effort UB has invested into providing its student body with varied ethnic and international cuisines should be extended to accommodating the dietary needs of a significant portion of the university’s population.

With this said, progress is being made.

The recent introduction of high-protein quinoa items, new pre-packaged vegetarian meals like tabbouleh and the addition of Seasons Café in the Center for the Arts are some of the most recent vegetarian-friendly additions on campus.

As meat-free diets grow in popularity, university dining centers will have to begin recognizing the concerns of vegetarian students by expanding their menus to include a variety of quality plant-based meals.

This move would also contribute toward UB’s sustainability policy. Scientists have concluded that animal agriculture is ecologically unsustainable, linking animal agriculture to crises such as pollution, greenhouse gas emissions and deforestation.

By taking the time to listen to and assess the dietary needs and preferences of the student body, UB could develop a plan for a more nutritious diverse menu and bring new plant-based options for students to enjoy, vegetarian or not.

As vegetarian diets grow more popular and public support grows for ethics and sustainability reform in agriculture, I only hope to see an increase in quality meat-free meals at large in the coming years.

Luke Heuskin is an arts staff writer. Arts desk can be reached at