A group of six students gathered in Market Central Wednesday night, not for a chicken patty or stir-fry bowl, but for a conversation with the chefs.
The students came for the second meeting of the Vegan and Vegetarian Collective, a group of Pitt students as well as Pitt Dining and Sodexo staff dedicated to furthering the available vegan and vegetarian options in University dining halls. At the meeting Wednesday, two chefs, six students and three Sodexo employees engaged in a conversation about what vegan options were working — as well as those that weren’t — in Market Central.
While the Pitt Dining staff set aside two long tables for the event, only half a table filled up, as fewer students showed up than they expected. According to Nick Goodfellow, Sodexo sustainability coordinator and a 2015 Pitt graduate, Pitt Dining hosted the first meeting for the collective this past January in the William Pitt Union, which drew in 60 students. So on Wednesday Goodfellow made sure to ask the students, “What happened?”
Multiple students replied saying it was most likely due to the midterm period keeping students busy. Despite the low turnout, the students there were determined to hold the meeting anyway.
They began by asking for more legume-based dishes, more meatless dishes outside of the Tutto Fresco station as well as readily available vegan dishes instead of made-to-order dishes.
Goodfellow jotted down each of the students’ suggestions and criticisms into his notebook, which had a sticker that read “I’m a food warrior” on the back cover.
Goodfellow said in the future, the dining staff plans on continuing “meatless Mondays,” adding unsweetened soy milk to Market and selling dairy-free yogurt at the Oakland Bakery.
Executive Chef Chris Cox, spoke at the meeting, announcing some of the changes Market has attempted in the past semester like adding distinct cooking surfaces for vegan dishes. He said recently the cooking staff received complaints that only one cooking surface was available at the 360 Degrees grill.
“Somebody’s who’s vegan doesn’t want to eat food cooked off the same surface [as the meat],” Cox said.
In response, Cox said the staff purchased a cooking surface to prepare tofu scramble in the mornings, separate from where they prepare normal breakfast bowls, which include eggs and bacon.
The students in attendance shared that they were excited about efforts like this, but had other requests as well. Sage Lincoln — a senior majoring in ecology, urban studies and geology — said she wished Market offered more protein options for vegans.
“A slab of polenta is not very nutrient rich,” Lincoln said.
On the whole, however, Lincoln said Pitt’s dining has vastly improved since she was a first-year student. When she started at Pitt, she said the vegan choices were slim, so she often had to ask the staff to cook specially for her. Today, she said she “loves getting swiped in.”
“Now there’s better labeling, more options in general, higher awareness and sensitivity to [being vegan], but there’s always more that can be improved,” Lincoln said.
Change has come in chunks since Lincoln’s first year. According to Goodfellow, the collective existed two years ago as a student-run group, but after those students graduated, nobody strived to keep it moving.
“It fell apart,” Goodfellow said.
Since then, students have banded together to reform the collective. Cecilia Oliveros, a senior studying economics and environmental studies and a vegan, began working as a sustainability intern for Sodexo this year and decided she wanted to see the collective working again, this time more closely run by dining services.
“What we wanted to do with this, when we started the collective, was make it a Sodexo-run thing,” Oliveros said. “So that after a student leaves, it doesn’t fade away.”
Goodfellow said in the future, Sodexo and the collective want to include non-vegan students who are interested in healthier eating.
“Anybody is welcome to come — not just people who are eating a vegan or vegetarian diet, but people who are interested in maybe eating less meat, or just want to learn more about it,” Goodfellow said.
At the end of the meeting, a few students stuck around to grab some grilled vegetables and chat. Lincoln said before she left that the collective had empowered a lot of students with alternative diets on campus.
“I think a lot of vegans and vegetarians had experiences that weren’t being addressed because they weren’t coming together or realizing that they could advocate for change and that people would be receptive to their needs,” Lincoln said.