Between late night delivery and cheap fast food, college student aren’t known for healthy eating. But Wendy Stein is trying.
Stein, a senior at Michigan State University, became a vegan two years ago. Despite having a numerous cafeterias to choose from with her meal plan, most foods were not vegan and Stein found her diet consisting heavily of salads, cereal and peanut butter sandwiches.
“They have burgers and pizza and food they think kids want to eat,” Stein said.
What college students really want are healthier meal choices, and colleges are attempting to comply.
Within the last ten years, the number of vegetarian and vegan food options on campuses has increased. Michigan State now runs a food station serving vegan and vegetarian options. The University of North Texas has recently opened the first all-vegan cafeteria and last year Oklahoma City University became the first campus with a raw vegan bar. And it’s the students pushing for healthier food option, said John Cunningham, a consumer research manager with the Vegetarian Resource Group. “The change comes from the bottom up,” Cunningham said. “More students are getting active and demanding it to their administrations.”
Stein submitted several requests to her school’s dining program requesting more diverse food options, and she likely wasn’t alone. Surveys done by the Vegetarian Resource Group in 2009 and 2010 show a slow and steady increase in the number of vegans and vegetarians. Three percent of the total population identifies as a vegetarian or vegan, and it is expected that there is a higher percentage among college students, making it more important for colleges to be conscious of dining room food options.
Patrick Walker, a vegan who recently transferred to Michigan State, said he looked at dining options when choosing schools and it was a “big plus” to discover vegan options at a school.
“It’s going to make my life really easy,” Walker said. “It’s really harder than most people think to think like a vegan and understand what they can and can’t eat.”
Even students who eat meat and animal products still want healthier options. A study from the National Restaurant Association showed 20 percent of students would like vegetarian options, even if they’re not vegetarian or vegan themselves.
“(College students) are thinking about the health benefits more than ever before,” said Monica Zimmer, director of public relations for Sodexo, a food facility management company that serves numerous colleges as well as conducting surveys among college students to discover trends in dining. In 1989, the top ten trends included items such as an egg, bacon and cheese English muffin and a taco bar. In 2009, the top trend was locally grown fruits and vegetables, and Zimmer is seeing an increase in demand for vegetarian foods.
At the same time, Stein said more of her peers have turned vegetarian or vegan. She supports the lifestyle for economic reasons, but also touts the physical benefits.
“It’s a much healthier lifestyle,” Stein said. “I feel much better eating the way I do.”
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