Olivia Doran ‘21
While the overwhelming majority of Davidson’s population is not vegan, Vail Commons and Davis Café have made strides to be inclusive with their menus, as more students have both transitioned to a vegan diet and expressed their complaints about the lack of vegan options.
Over the past decade, vegan diets have become increasingly popular. According to Forbes, the number of Americans who identify as vegan rose by 5% between 2014-2017 alone. Forbes attributes this growth in large part to social media, in which users explain the health benefits to going vegan and how the switch benefits animals. People switch to veganism for a variety of reasons, including to live a healthier lifestyle, to protect the environment, and to protest animal cruelty.
While explaining why she became vegan in high school, former vegan Julia Pharr ‘22 said that she had “always liked eating healthy.” Supporting Forbes’ claim that social media plays a significant role in why people become vegan, Pharr explained that she “got into a YouTube niche of raw vegan people, and it left a big impression” on her, though she ultimately decided a vegan diet was not the right choice for her.
Because veganism is a plant-based diet, it is more difficult for vegans to get all of the nutrients that the human body requires. Davidson College Dietician Elizabeth Allred explained that “nutrients that are at risk of being low in a vegan diet are protein, calcium, iron, zinc, and B12.” Allred asserted that it can be particularly challenging for Davidson student athletes to maintain a healthy vegan diet when they are traveling, as their options tend to be limited.
After being influenced by a former teammate, track runner Max Higgins ’21 transitioned from vegetarianism to veganism last semester. Higgins explained that he is content with his choice to become vegan, as he feels good in his races and in his everyday life. He had mostly positive things to say about the vegan options that Commons provides. However, he finds Davis Café and the Wildcat Den less accommodating. As a result, Higgins eats most of his meals in Commons.
Maddy Wolfenbarger ‘22 holds a similar view to Higgins. She explained that the change from eating vegan at home to eating vegan at Davidson was “easy.” Wolfenbarger attributed this smooth transition to not being a picky eater. The options that the Commons salad bar offers keeps her content because, she asserted, when it comes to salads, “it’s all about what you put on it.”
However, Wolfenbarger would like to see an increase in vegan baked goods. Oatmeal raisin cookies, which are offered in Davis Café, are one of her favorite desserts, and she would like to have a vegan oatmeal raisin cookie option on campus.
Although Higgins and Wolfenbarger find the vegan options on campus sufficient, Ben Leach ‘22 disagrees. Leach feels that Davidson’s dining options are disappointing. To improve the dining options on campus, Leach would like to see squashes, nut butter, and more of a variety in the greens and fruit that the school offers. He often must supplement his meals with his own food, such as nuts, raw oats, fruit, and almond/oat milk.
In response to complaints similar to those that Leach has, the Davis Café modified its menu at the beginning of this semester. Davis Café Executive Chef Kerwin Astudillo worked with Allred to add healthier, more vegan friendly options. Previously, the meatless soup option would sometimes contain dairy, but that is no longer the case. There is now always a vegan soup available. However, the item he is “most proud of is the new vegan burger.” According to Astudillo, the vegan burger has been quite popular and the demand for it has been higher than he expected. This may be a reflection of the rising popularity of meatless burgers in the fast food industry. The feedback that he has received about the changes in the menu have been mostly positive, he said. Astudillo encourages students to use the feedback board in the Union in order to help him make changes to the menu that the community would like to see.
When asked about how to maintain a healthy vegan diet on campus with somewhat limited options, Allred emphasized the importance of being creative with meals and to practice mixing and matching different foods to avoid tiring of Davidson’s options. To help spark creativity, Allred works with Commons to post “Dietician Picks” on the kiosk in Commons for both lunch and dinner every day. Additionally, these picks are posted on the @davidsonnutrition Instagram account.
While there are certainly differing opinions among students about whether the vegan options on campus are sufficient, Astudillo explained that having to cater to students with dietary restrictions is a “challenge” for the Davis Café, particularly because his team is limited to a small cooking space in comparison to Commons. However, he emphasized that he, the other Davis Café employees, and Allred are all working to “take care of the student body” as best they can by taking feedback into consideration as they “experiment” with new dining options.
Dining Services has begun to include more vegan options and to educate students on how to maintain a healthy vegan diet. As of now, the three current vegan students that were interviewed agreed with Leach that “in terms of accommodation, it would be Commons first, Union second, and then the Den.” However, this may change if Davidson continues to expand on its vegan-friendly options.