Residence dining halls have introduced vegan food stations in response to student demand (Photo: Phoebe Powell).

Mixed progress on vegan and local food options at Dal eateries

Campus dining halls respond to student requests for more sustainable food options

Mealtime at Dalhousie’s residence cafeterias has become a flashy affair. In Howe Hall, an LCD screen announces daily vegan specials while another identifies locally raised foods. Large, splashy posters outline the cafeteria’s composting policies. All of this is part of the university’s efforts to provide more sustainable food options on campus.

For the past few years student groups have filed requests that Aramark, the main food supplier on Dalhousie’s campus, incorporate sustainable food practices at its cafeterias. And for the most part, the company has taken student suggestions seriously.

A member of Sustain Dal, a student organization that focuses on food sustainability issues on campus, says he is impressed with the changes that Aramark has made.

“The effort that Aramark has put into updating its practices in the last year has been really good to see,” says Ben Langer. “They’re buying a lot of locally raised food, and they’re letting students know that.”

Students have their say

Derrick Hines, Dalhousie’s food service director, says student feedback is crucial to developing food policies on campus.  He relies on student focus groups, e-mails, and food committee meetings to get the opinions of Dalhousie students.

In recent years, there has been a push by students for sustainable food practices, and so Aramark developed its Farm to Table program. Under the program the company buys much of its produce, poultry and seafood from local farmers. Dining halls advertise which food is locally raised.

Hines says conversations with students have also led Aramark to address various dietary issues of students.

“Of the 2,000 students in residence this year, we’ve identified 470 with dietary concerns – from gluten and nut allergies to irritable bowel syndrome to vegans. We put a lot of effort into catering to all these special needs.”

All dining halls now offer meal options for these dietary concerns. Aramark has even outfitted the cafeterias with vegan-specific stations that offer a variety of food options at each meal.

Dal recognized for vegan-friendly efforts

Dalhousie’s commitment to providing students with a variety of vegetarian and vegan meal options caught the eye of Peta2, a youth organization affiliated with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, an animal rights organization based in the U.S.

The group’s website is hosting a competition between Canadian universities to find the most vegetarian-friendly campus in the country. Dalhousie made the top 15 universities, but was eliminated in the first round of competition. The contest relies on student voting to determine the winning school.

Ryan Huling, Peta2’s college campaign coordinator, says schools have really stepped up their vegetarian- and vegan-friendly efforts in recent years.

“We wanted to highlight the schools that have really gone above and beyond to meet the needs of students seeking healthier and more humane dining options, including Dalhousie,” says Huling.

“Many college students are seeking vegan options when they sit down to eat, for reasons ranging from their own health, to environmental concerns, and cruelty to animals, so it's imperative that schools continue to improve the quantity and quality of the meatless choices on the menu.”

Some food providers falling short on sustainability

However, not all of Dalhousie’s campus eateries are as committed to providing students with sustainable food choices.

This September, the Grad House lounge, run by the Dalhousie Association of Graduate Students, did not renew their food contract with Fresh, a food counter committed to serving healthy, local food to students. Terroir Local Source, a local catering company, managed Fresh at the Grad House for three years prior to September.

Stephen Caines, catering manager at Local Source, says the company wanted to continue serving students out of the Grad House, but the bar’s management made it impossible.

“We desperately wanted to get back in the Grad House. We met with the new management, and it seemed like they were willing to make us the sole supplier there for the first time,” says Caines.

“But in the end, they ended up asking for far too much money from a small business like Local Source, and they weren’t really receptive to the commitment to local food we wanted to bring to campus.”

Caines says the Grad House asked for a 100 per cent increase in rent from last year, because two other food suppliers were moving out of the building, leaving Fresh as the only supplier.

The Grad House did not return calls requesting comment.

Langer sees the loss of Fresh as a step in the wrong direction for Dalhousie.

“It’s really sad to see Fresh leave the Grad House; it’s a big loss. We’re left as students with less choice, because Fresh was the only food provider focused entirely on local, organic sustainable food options on campus.”

 

 

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