Vegan Students Navigate Eating at Davidson Amid Dietary Restrictions, Call for Food Preparation Transparency

Raven Hudson-

Eating at Commons can be challenging as diners compare the pros and cons of the express line versus chef du jour options. But for vegan students, picking out a meal is even more difficult. Often they have to get creative, navigating an obstacle course of stations to make a complete, edible plate.

Veganism is the practice of not eating any animal-based products, including meat, eggs, and dairy, either for ethical or environmentally conscious reasons. In settings such as restaurants and dining halls, these dietary restrictions can make finding food a sort of scavenger hunt. 

However, over the past few years Davidson has worked towards making its dining areas more accessible to vegan students.

According to Director of Dining Services Dee Phillips, “For students with dietary needs, Commons will be best and have the most flexibility… Whenever a suggestion comes in, we get together to see if we can do it and how.”

Phillips, along with one of Davidson’s registered dieticians Elizabeth Allred, orchestrates menu changes in response to students’ requests. So far, the repertoire of vegan options includes items like beans, tempeh, tofu, quinoa, hummus, pasta, and black bean burgers. In addition, there is almond, soy, and rice milk. The chef du jour line allows students to customize their meals and one entire side of the salad bar is vegan.

A “Vegan’s Picks” section is even featured on the Dietician’s Picks board for every lunch and dinner. Moreover, students are encouraged to take advantage of Commons’s “open kitchen,” which allows students to walk into the back, get to know the chefs, ask about ingredients and preparation, and see the food supplies themselves.

“I think they’ve made a lot of progress,” reflected Margo Parker ‘21. “From what I’ve heard, Commons used to be a lot more difficult to eat vegan in, and I think dining services has been receptive overall.”

While the vegan students at Davidson gratefully acknowledge the improvements made, they still say that conditions could be better. The right options are present, but the servers are often unaware of newly implemented policies, resulting in confusion on all sides. Students are frequently directed to items that are gluten-free or vegetarian, but not vegan. Other times, one step forward is accompanied by two steps back: a vegan cheese topping is unveiled, but the bread at the pizza station contains dairy, for example.

Corina Cobb ’21 recognizes that part of the difficulty for vegan students is just the culture shock of college, adding, “It’s a big shift going from home, where I have a lot of control [over my food], to here.”

Increased transparency and variety are two of the primary requests from vegan students. For example, the express line always contains vegetable and grain options, but there are rarely any vegan meals. In addition, the vegan salad bar disappears on the weekends, leaving vegan students severely restricted.

As for transparency, although ingredient lists are posted beside each station, students remain wary, since their needs are more specific than those of vegetarians. Moreover, some students have allergies to consider as well.

“You don’t really realize all the restrictions until you have them. The world isn’t built for people who have restrictions or disabilities,” noted Taryn Johnson ’21.

Students are taking action to create their own changes on campus in terms of increasing vegan accessibility. Rachael Falcetta explained that she is seeking to create “a group of people who meet weekly or bi-weekly to eat vegan together; a community.”

In search of support, many vegan students at Davidson have formed their own groups. While most of them are members of the Davidson Animal Welfare Group (DAWG), several are also part of the more unofficial community of Veg Out Davidson, a Facebook group for vegans and vegetarians where students can share tips and recipes.

On Tuesday, November 7, at 11am, Vail Commons will host a tour on how to navigate a vegan diet at Commons. Any students who would like a better understanding of their dining options or wish to speak with the dining staff are invited to attend.

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