Vegetarian options take over Birch for a day

A partnership between Sodexo Campus and the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) led to a plant-based takeover of Birch Tree Inn on World Vegan Day during the lunch hours. Inspiration from around the world led to an array of meat alternatives, vegetarian dishes and healthy desserts being offered.

There are a myriad of reasons for someone to prefer plant-based meals over ones involving meat, ranging from health conditions to lifestyle choices. Studies from as recently as this past July indicate plant-based dietary alternatives are superior based on how their production emits less greenhouse gasses and requires fewer resources than raising farm animals. Plant-based food products also tend to be healthier than the meats they replace.

Whether they are vegetarian, vegan or simply environmentally conscious, students often struggle to find meatless meal options. Those who live in dorms without stoves rely even more heavily on the limited selection of the dining hall. This event made choosing something to eat a breeze and introduced students to dishes many had never heard of before.

I learned about the event through an email from Ramapo Green, the college’s sustainability hub. The message described it as “a Plant-Based Celebration of REAL Food,” and I can safely say the epithet was apt.

When I entered Birch Tree Inn, I was immediately drawn to the smoky chipotle tacos. They lived up to their name, with a spicy teriyaki glaze and sweet and sour sauce combining to make my eyes water. As some who occasionally has issues with certain textures, I appreciated how smoothly the beans had been blended.

Other entrees featured plant-based chicken alternatives, such as the buffalo crispy chick’n wrap and the sweet chili chick’n. Freshman Prashant Shah tried the latter and said, “It’s better than the actual chicken.”

I appreciated the cultural diversity represented by the various options. Impossible Bolognese and whole wheat penne being served in the same room as a Korean-style rice bowl is not a common sight, but it is certainly welcome.

The event offered something for everyone. Attendees who possess a sweet tooth flocked to the dessert table. I could not resist trying a blueberry oat bar. The mild vanilla flavor paired well with the tang of the blueberries, and the small side of fresh fruit kept the bar from drying out.

“It’s pretty good,” said senior Josie Ajello. “It’s nutty and salty. I like how chewy it is. It kind of melts in your mouth.”

Attendees were invited to fill out a survey to offer feedback on their experience and enter a t-shirt giveaway. One section requested suggestions for other plant-based dishes that could be offered in the future. Personally, I am a fan of dishes that substitute chicken with cauliflower and would love to see Birch Tree Inn’s spin on some.

Until then, students who tried the event’s offerings and cannot get enough can check out the free collection of plant-based recipes offered online by the USHS. With names like “stuffed acorn squash” and “gingerbread oatmeal bars,” they have to be worth trying.

Photo by Danielle Bongiovanni.