There are lots of things to love about millenials and Gen-Zs, but one of the best is how they are demanding more meatless food options. An initiative to have 55% of food options involve plant-based proteins at my university by next fall recently made national news. See “Western University’s cafeteria food probably not what you ate in school.“
We have a little restaurant on campus that serves really good food. But they don’t always have vegan options. They accommodate, but it’s not a default. And they are well aware that if they serve me one more veggie samosa (don’t get me wrong, the first hundred samosas were absolutely amazing! And I can enjoy them with enough time in between. But not every week, thanks anyway)…well, let’s just say I like variety as much as the next person and leave it at that. If I show up unannounced, they go into a tizzy (“you didn’t tell us you were coming!”). I like that they care. But I’d rather not create panic when I come with a group whose reservation is not under my name.
I know our Great Hall Catering can do it when called upon to do it. A while back, Sam and I co-organized a feminist philosophy conference and asked for the entire thing to have vegan catering. That meant all breaks, a lunch, a reception, and two dinners (including a fancy banquet). From the cashew cheese tray at the reception, to the make-your-own burrito bowl lunch, from the banquet dinner with actual real dessert (not a fruit tray!)…many attendees remarked that it was the best catering they’d ever had at a conference. But that was by special request. And it took some work with them (like I told them where to source the outstanding vegan cheese, for example, from the local company Nuts for Cheese). But once they got the hang of it, they ran with it.
Knowing this, I’m eager to see what they come up with as they revamp the food offerings on campus to offer more plant-based selections. I have long complained that amazing chefs at high end restaurants seem to be unable to grasp the idea of plant-based protein sources. As if a plate full of side dishes is actually satisfying. Tasty, perhaps, but satisfying and well-rounded. No. I have eaten many a side salad and baked potato for dinner while the rest of the party ate ample and (apparently) delicious meals that included protein as the main event.
Western has enlisted the help of a consulting company, Forward Food, to ensure that they do this right. It’s been a slow road, but I consider this a big win. And it’s all because of demand. Young people, like a good proportion of our student population of over 30,000, want plant-based options.
The prospect of having vegan options by default, not by special request, whenever I go to lunch on campus excites me. Contrary to what some may think and much as I appreciate that they know me and my needs at my favourite campus restaurant, I actually prefer not to be given “special” treatment. I would much rather just go have my lunch and be able to pick from a range of selections just like any other customer. I’ll be first in line for the veggie “crab” cakes.
Have you seen a shift in offerings over recent years at the food services outlets you frequent?