The dining hall at Marist College was packed as usual on a weekday evening, packed to the brim with students looking for a satisfying dinner meal. Many of them head for the main meal of the day, which on this particular day was the satisfying staple of chicken. Many others crowd around the grill, waiting for the perfect hamburger or hot dog to fill their ravenous stomachs.
As for myself, I ignored these two options, because I am a vegetarian at Marist.
At least, for the past week, I was. Don’t worry, I’ll explain.
Last week, meat-lovers around the world were dealt a pretty raw deal by the World Health Organization, who released a report which stated that the consumption of processed red meats – including beef, veal, and pork, among others – leads to an increased risk of cancer. While early, the early headlines involved eating a hot dog being as bad for a person’s health as smoking was, and led to a pretty intense backlash from several nutritionists and cancer specialists, not to mention the meat industry.
I am not here to specifically debate the merits of the study, as many of the terms simply fly well above my head. However, it has caused me to wonder just how a person at Marist can eliminate meat from their diet, and whether such a feat is easy or not. Therefore, I found myself with a plate of whole wheat pasta and an Italian salad rather than that scrumptious chicken they were serving on that day.
My findings did have a few rules that I had to abide by. First and foremost, to qualify as being part of this experiment, the food must be bought on the campus itself. Simply put, a vegetarian lifestyle is relatively easy if you can drive to Stop & Shop or ShopRite to get what you need. Therefore, I specifically judged the food from the Marist cafeteria, the Cabaret, Donnelly and Dyson Cafes, and the Marketplace/Jazzman’s café. Also left out were breakfast options, as pancakes and cereal are easy to acquire, and are definitely not meat products by themselves. Finally, I did not go full vegan, as I was only interested in the elimination of red meat.
My findings were a little mixed. While some locations on campus had an ample variety of food to select from for vegetarians, other areas were not as hospitable, and had very little in the way of food to select from.
The cafeteria was the primary location of my investigation, and seemed to provide the most variety in the vegetarian menu. With stations for salads, pasta, sushi, and a dedicated vegetarian meal, it was very hospitable to a vegetarian. In addition, the primary food station also featured non-meat dishes from time to time, and specialty pizzas such as spicy vegetable added some zest to the menu. Many of the students I talked to that were vegetarians did not have any complaints in the selection of food at the cafeteria, and I had to wholeheartedly agree; with a variety of choices to sample, there was nothing that was really to complain about.
What was something to complain about, however, were the auxiliary food locations. The primary choices in the Cabaret and other cafes across campus were burgers and chicken, and had relatively few options for vegetarians. There were veggie burgers and meatless burritos that one could order, but aside from that and a few French fries to nibble on, it was meat, meat, meat. Furthermore, some of the options were rather pricey; for a little more than six dollars, you can buy cheese quesadillas, which as you expect, had nothing but cheese in them. When I tried them, they tasted like rubber, and were certainly not worth the amount I had paid for them. This left me with premade salads as my primary source of nutrition, but these salads did not have the same taste as those in the cafeteria. Needless to say, I was firmly disappointed.
Not everything outside of the cafeteria is doom and gloom for vegetarians, however. Every Tuesday for lunch, the Caberet hosts the Valley Café, which is a sustainable buffet meal open to students and faculty. While not a vegetarian option per se, the meals offered by the café can have more variety than anything else offered on campus, even for meatless options. For example, last Tuesday’s selection included salmon, rice, and a specialty veggie soup, all of which were carefully prepared to the highest quality. The menu each week is different, so you will never get the same meal twice at this hidden gem on campus.
There was a lot more I wanted to find out about eating healthy on campus, but personal matters forced me to cut my investigation near the end of the week. Furthermore, while I tried to get in touch with local nutritionists, I have not received a reply from any at the current moment.
With the WHO report still in dispute, information about the health of meats can be just as right as it is wrong. Still, I was able to get what I had set out to do, and with a complete certainty, I can say that while there are some struggles, for the most part, vegetarian options are readily available to the student body at Marist to have without having to struggle with groceries and a kitchen.
Just don’t expect much from that cheese quesadilla, though.