As the number of college students who consider themselves vegetarian or vegan grows, college campuses can't ignore the meatless masses. The college dining experience may not be essentially vegetable-friendly, but there are also more options available today than ever before.
Whether you've eliminated meat from your diet for moral or health-related reasons, sticking to your vegetarian or vegan lifestyle can be challenging in college, but it is certainly not impossible.
Ramapo College has made strides within the past couple of years to accommodate the diets of its students, and their efforts have not gone unnoticed.
Although there have always been plenty of eating alternatives for vegetarians and vegans on campus, they often just don't contain the proper nutrients needed to be nourishing. Pizza, french fries and veggie burgers are served almost daily, but these foods have little to no nutritional value.
Ramapo has surely taken this into account, as just about anyone can see from a quick scan around the dining hall. These less beneficial options are still available, but more students are taking the initiative to choose healthier, vegetable-based meals now that they are readily available.
One of the more popular dining facilities at Ramapo is the Atrium, otherwise known as the "Pay Caf." At the Pay Caf, students use "flex" dollars from their meal plan as they would use cash to pay for their meals, instead of using meal swipes.
At the Pay Caf, there is a fully stocked salad bar at all times of the day. This gives students the option to build their own salad however they would like, paying by how much it weighs. The salad bar offers toppings of all kinds, including tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, mushrooms, artichoke hearts, bell peppers, broccoli and more. Most importantly, it offers various types of beans, as well as tofu, which are complete sources of protein.
As a vegetarian or vegan, it is important to supplement your diet with protein, since you are not consuming the nutrients from meat, poultry, seafood, and in some cases, dairy. Protein is key to muscle repair and maintenance of the body, so this is essential. Topping your salad with beans or tofu is an easy and delicious way to incorporate protein into your diet.
Also included in Pay Caf is a grab-and-go refrigerator section. As far as vegetarians and vegan options go, there are countless items available. From celery and carrot sticks to pretzels with hummus dip, there is a selection for a variety of palates. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, sushi is offered along with readily available vegetarian and vegan alternatives. Vegetable-filled sushi rolls, steamed edamame and seaweed salad are offered for a quick take-out lunch.
Alternative places to eat on campus are the main dining halls, the Birch Tree Inn and the Pavilion. To eat here, students use meal swipes from their meal plan. These dining halls are buffet style, so once swiped in, students are free to eat as much as they'd like. Similar to Pay Caf, both dining halls offer salad bars with lettuce and various vegetables to build your own salad.
Within the past year, Ramapo has also introduced soy milk to the dining halls. Soy milk is a great dairy alternative, and many vegetarians and vegans like to use this in place of milk in their cereal or coffee.
When looking at the menus in the dining halls, you may notice how some of the offered foods have a "V" or "VG" label next to them. The "V" stands for "vegetarian option," and the "VG" stands for "vegan option." There are a number of vegetarian and vegan foods available in the dining halls, and because of these labels, students don't have to question what their food is cooked with or what a recipe contains.
Ramapo has taken time and effort to provide its vegetarian and vegan students with the options and information they need in order to continue their comfortable lifestyles from home. It's up to you as the student to take this information and use it to your advantage.
Although trading in your normal routine for a brand new one in college can be particularly trying when you're on a meat-free diet, don't get discouraged. Look at it as an opportunity to get creative and try new foods, and encourage more healthy options here at school.