Nestled next to the salad bar in Market Central, a new eatery is serving plant-based options out of a cart borrowed from the basketball court of the Petersen Events Center — and it’s attracting vegans, vegetarians and omnivores alike.
Pitt’s Student Office of Sustainability recently partnered with Pitt’s Vegan/Vegetarian Collective, a group which advocates for more plant-based food options on campus, and Forward Food, an organization that trains chefs and cooks to make healthy plant-based meals, to introduce a new station serving such foods in Market Central.
The dining hall’s new plant-based alternative has already exceeded some students’ expectations, including Emmy Brown’s, a first-year anthropology and neuroscience major. She was thrilled to have access to more options that accommodate her vegan diet.
“This cart is the best thing to ever happen to Market,” she said.
Before the Forward Food cart appeared, Brown usually traveled up to the Perch to grab a black bean burger at Red Hot Chef, or ran around Market assembling a meat- and dairy-free plate. Now she just needs to head back to the cart when she walks into Market.
“It’s so convenient to have a place that serves healthy vegan options that taste great,” she said.
Nick Goodfellow, Pitt Dining Sustainability Coordinator and head of the Veg Collective, said the eatery started out serving 300 portions each at lunch and dinner during the test week right after spring break. After selling out each time, the cart’s increased its portions and now serves 350 per mealtime.
“It’s great to see that people are so receptive to the cart,” Goodfellow said. “It means there’s a good chance that it’ll expand in the future.”
According to Goodfellow, the idea for the cart emerged when the Humane Society reached out to the SOOS about Forward Food. With the help of the Veg Collective, two chefs from Forward Food staff came during spring break and trained several Market cooks and chefs to prepare plant-based meals.
Amy Walker, a Market cook who participated in the training, said this is her first time working with plant-based food during her career as a cook. Preparing meals with no meat, dairy-free cheese and lots of herbs was new to her, but she and a lot of students find the food delicious.
“When I serve the plant-based meals, I see people’s faces light up,” Walker said. “So many people come back for seconds, and a lot of them tell me they’re not even vegan, but they love it.”
Market Executive Chef Bill Ward said the traffic for the cart has been outstanding. Whenever he goes to check out how it’s doing and chat with students grabbing plates of tofu and spinach pesto, the responses he gets are usually positive.
“Tons of people have asked me if this is going to be around next year,” he said. “It definitely will, and we’ll probably be expanding it.”
Due to its initial success, Goodfellow hopes to expand the popular plant-based options to locations in the Cathedral and the Perch.
Rachael Rakocy, a sophomore emergency medicine major, said she’s visited the cart several times since its conception, although she is not a vegan. She initially thought the cart was there because something in Tutto Fresco broke and they had to move their food.
“I’m not really somebody who cares about watching what they eat, but the food’s better than I thought it would be,” she said. “It tastes good, which is what I care about. It being healthy is a pretty cool bonus.”