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Opinion: UTSG vegan options leave much to be desired

Moving toward campus sustainability and student health requires improved access to meat-free food options
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RACHEL GAO/THE VARSITY
RACHEL GAO/THE VARSITY

I have unsuccessfully been vegan for about two years now. My game plan has been this: meal prep on the weekend, eat my prepped meals throughout the week, and mission accomplished —  I’m a vegan. As one could probably expect, my dream of being a meal prep queen is rarely realized because, like many students, I don’t have the time to properly meal prep. So, when plan A fails — which it frequently does — I move to plan B, which is finding a vegan meal on campus. However, this endeavour is not as easy as one would hope.

While there are some vegan options on and around campus, the selection is small and the prices are very high.

Over my two-year struggle, I have found a few vegan-ish foods that I have grown to love: plain french fries — which can be found at pretty much every food truck; Ned’s Cafe’s veggie samosas — which combine the nutritional value of a small variety of vegetables with the comforting quality of crispy, carby, dough; Café Reznikoff’s overpriced pasta salad, which may or may not actually be vegan; and The Green Beet, which is delicious but unsustainably expensive.

Additionally, the Food Services website features a list of on-campus locations with certified vegan items.

These lovely options aside, finding a well-balanced, reasonably priced vegan meal on campus is not easy. Really any healthy meal of any kind is hard to come by, and those that do exist are usually far out of the price range of most students. Students should be able to find healthy meals on campus for a relatively low price. Currently, students either pay for overpriced and slightly healthy food, or restrict themselves to cheaper, greasy foods.

Research finds that cognition is greatly affected by a person’s eating habits. Increasing the availability of healthy, cheap, and plant-based options in cafeterias across campus will not only make eating on campus more accessible to those who are vegan, but will also give the average student a greater variety of healthy options to choose from.

In 2018, the American College Health Association found that approximately 63 per cent of postsecondary students are not eating sufficient portions of fruits and vegetables. This comes as no surprise. I often find myself eating fries, bread, and other carbohydrates-filled snacks, unable to find or afford healthier options.

University students often reach for the closest options, factoring in portability and price in between classes, jobs, and study sessions. Poor diets have become a commonly accepted feature of the postsecondary experience. But this is an issue that the university has the power to improve.

According to one study published in the journal Science, going vegan is the single most effective way to reduce one’s environmental footprint. While it is unrealistic to expect the majority of U of T students to switch to a vegan diet, it is in the best interest of the university to give students options to do so by providing students with increasingly accessible and varied vegan food options.

Seeing as U of T has already pledged itself toward the U7+ climate goals, promising to work toward “campus as a living lab, university as an agent of change, and curriculum innovation,” it would be prudent to consider investing in plant-based options.

If the university is to influence students and society toward sustainability, food must be a part of that effort. Exposing students to affordable, nutritious vegan food will not only increase awareness of the possibility of veganism as a sustainable diet, but also reinforce the university’s commitment toward student health — an action that is long overdue.

Harper Stewart is a fourth-year Political Science student at Innis College.