As a vegan, entering a college dining hall can be a struggle. Even at the 5Cs, where vegan options are almost always available and mostly labeled, I still sometimes find myself hesitating as I approach the meal stations.
What if I can’t find anything to eat? As great of an effort the dining halls put into labeling food and trying out more sophisticated vegan recipes, there is always room for improvement.
I’ve heard horror stories of mislabeled hamburgers making it into the mouths of unwitting vegan students. I’ve personally encountered difficulties getting clear answers about ingredients from dining hall staff (most of the time, they just don’t know the answers themselves).
I’m used to being disappointed. Scripps College’s Malott Dining Commons offers about a dozen types of bread, and none of them are vegan. And why does Claremont McKenna College’s Collins Dining Hall advertise its vegan desserts if they don’t provide them every time?
That’s why my number one piece of advice to aspiring and fellow vegans in college is to know your favorite vegan foods, along with when and where you can find them.
For instance, I can always count on Pitzer College’s McConnell Dining Hall’s Saturday night pasta bar to deliver superb bowtie pasta with marinara sauce, broccoli, mushrooms, and asparagus, over which I’ll sprinkle my own vegan parmesan.
Still, making a personalized inventory can take time and effort. I decided to ask for further advice from experts: the vegans who frequent these dining halls every day.
Vegan student Izzy DeTroy PZ ’21 runs an Instagram account called @vegan.izm where she posts photos of the vegan foods she makes, primarily smoothie bowls.
“When you become vegan, it [has an] impact on the people around you,” DeTroy said. “Realizing that you can influence people — and that it’s a very easy diet if you let it be — has made me continue.”
DeTroy recommended the vegan curry at Harvey Mudd College’s Hoch-Shanahan Dining Hall on Saturdays. She also advised students looking to try vegan foods at the 5Cs to “keep it simple.”
“I think people get caught up in it but you can eat a lot of normal things,” DeTroy said. “People assume vegans are all like ‘health gods,’ and that’s not true. Be the kind of vegan you want to be.”
One of DeTroy’s main concerns about the dining halls is that foods are sometimes mislabeled. She also wishes there were more oil-free options.
Camryn Hollarsmith SC ’20, a member of the 5C club Claremont Students for Animals (CSA), said that Pitzer’s vegan almond coconut tres leches cake is “to die for.”
Anya Krause SC ’18, another CSA member, said: “Recently, Pitzer started having quinoa with soy milk in the morning with butternut squash, mushrooms, and spinach as toppings, which I love. Also, I always take advantage of taking bananas to go, freezing them, and making ice cream/smoothies in my blender in my room.”
Linda Huang PZ ’21 wrote in a Facebook message to TSL that her favorite vegan options are McConnell’s stir-fry, red velvet and carrot cakes, and Pomona College’s Texas sheet cake.
Huang, who became vegan when she arrived at Pitzer, said she thinks McConnell serves the best and most abundant vegan options.
“The other dining halls can be harder sometimes, especially [Pomona’s] Frary [Dining Hall], because they really only have salads,” Huang wrote. “It would be nice to see cheeseless flatbreads/pizza dishes.”
Vegan student Melanie Venet PZ ’20 created the Instagram account @5cveg where she posts photos of the best vegan foods she finds and shares her “veggie hacks” with others.
“Veggie Hacks of the 5Cs is an Instagram page for vegans … to share and find new ideas for meals and/or across the campuses, [and] to inform people of new plant-based dining hall options,” Venet wrote in a Facebook message to TSL.
Through her Instagram account, Venet hopes to reveal the experiences of vegan students at the 5Cs.
“The Instagram page will be a good way for people to share these experiences … and as a community, we can make some changes that we want to see in our dining halls,” Venet wrote.
Kailey McNeal PZ ’21 has been vegan for three years and thinks it’s “extremely easy” to be vegan at the 5Cs.
“With everything labeled and basically every dining hall offering multiple options, no one is ever left eating just salad,” McNeal told TSL via Facebook messenger. “My favorite meal is the pad thai at Pitzer on Friday nights.”
McNeal also offered some advice to students who may be looking to try more vegan options.
“Don’t limit yourself to tofu, and don’t ever think that you can’t eat something because you’re vegan,” McNeal wrote. “You can totally make most things vegan.”
McNeal wants to see the dining halls go meat-free or vegan for a day to “commit to our environmentally conscious missions at the 5Cs.”
Pitzer professor Bill Anthes has been vegan for six or seven years and eats at the campus dining halls a few times a week.
“I pretty much only eat at Pitzer’s dining hall, which is very good at labeling what’s there,” Anthes wrote in an email to TSL. “If I ever have a question, the dining hall staff are very knowledgeable.”
Anthes’ favorite menu item is McConnell’s curry bar. However, he has a few things he’d like to see changed.
“It might be nice to have some vegan options that are less sugary … or less ‘carb-y’ in general,” Anthes wrote. “And if you’re avoiding soy, which some people do, that’s not always included on the label.”
Anthes also gave some advice to students seeking to try a vegan diet.
“If you’re an athlete, or have any health challenges, be sure to talk to a nutritionist or doctor if you’re thinking of eliminating entire food groups from your diet,” Anthes wrote.