New Leaf: Eco-friendly dining hall

By Lauren Belcher |
Illustration by Charis Harper

Around mid-January, I got an e-mail about the dining hall introducing a new vegetarian station.

I was excited that the college would make such a big transition, so I decided to check it out. Now, I am an employee of ARAMARK, but I work at Bugg’s Bistro, not the dining hall. I have no prior knowledge of what they do over there, other than my time as a freshman when I lived on campus.

Executive Chef Keith Atkins said the vegetarian station is doing a lot better than they planned. “I got with a couple of students when we first started this just to get ideas,” he said. “I’m always up for suggestions. I’m not going to lie, I never knew that much about the vegan lifestyle.”

Atkins said that about a year ago, they started doing trial bases. “At the expo station we would do veggie burritos or tofu something or black bean burger,” he said. “We got really good feedback.”

Atkins and Lina Hammond, from catering services, allowed me to test out the new station for a few days. I went there a few times to see if the station was successful. What a wonderful turning point for the college.

Trial Period: Vegetarian Station

The first time I went was around dinnertime on Jan. 28. The dining hall served vegan chili with chips and yogurt. The flavorful chili was delicious and the salty chips and Greek-style yogurt were a perfect complement to the dish. They also had a Boca burger option. The burger is made on a grilling machine and then the diner can take it to the deli station for desired toppings.

Atkins said that with every dish the station serves they will also have a Boca burger as an option. My opinion of the Boca burger is that it was OK. But, it’s a great option to always have around for vegetarian students. I commend them on that.

The next day I went around lunchtime. The station served a fried veggie wrap and a Boca burger. The wrap was Asian-inspired and consisted of fried vegetables and rice with a tangy sauce. It was very tasty but it was too small to be a meal.

Atkins said that the station serves small portions because they are only meant to be additions to what the student it already eating. “I go through about 25 pounds of hummus now, when we used to go through 10,” he said. “The kids wanted the pasta station back. We go through about 20 pounds of raw pasta a day. It’s unreal.”

The next time I went was Feb. 1. The station served a grilled veggie salad with a vinaigrette and a Boca burger. The salad consisted of fresh mixed greens, broccoli, squash, zucchini and sprouts. There was also the option of adding grilled green peppers or onions. The vinaigrette was very light and refreshing, and the salad was a nice change.

Overall, I would say the station was a big success. I never had food like that when I used to eat on campus. But, my opinion isn’t the only one that matters so I asked a few residents to try out the station and tell me what they thought.

Alyx Adams, vegetarian

Adams has been a vegetarian for almost five years. She lives on campus and eats at the dining hall. “I think it’s a really good idea because a lot of students here are vegetarian,” Adams said. “Where I come from it’s like an oddity, so it was really hard to go somewhere like the dining hall and find a vegetarian option there, besides salad. So it’s really nice.”

Adams said the food from the vegetarian station is better compared to the other options in the dining hall. One improvement she said they should make is “a suggestion box where people can put what they would like to eat.”

I asked her if she realized that they already have a suggestion box and she said, “Yeah. I put suggestions in that box and I never see anything.”

Adams gave me the run-down of everything she ate at the vegetarian station during her trial.

“The first thing I ate was the eggplant philly and that was really good,” she said. “Then I had a salad, which was good, it had fresh avocados. Some burritos, which were OK, it was a weird consistency. A stuffed pita thing, it was all right, needed more sauce. Stroganoff, that was really good.”

The few times I ate at the station, I didn’t notice a lot of traffic, even though Atkins said it was very popular. I asked Adams how many students she noticed eating at the station. “I see a lot of people doing it,” Adams said. “Even meat eaters really like the stuff there. And it’s a lot healthier than meat.”

Veronica Patterson, former vegetarian

Patterson is not vegetarian or a vegan, although she eats at the new station. “I really enjoy the food there,” Patterson said. “I don’t really trust the meat here, so I tend to stay away.”

She said she used to be a vegetarian, and now that there are more options available to her, she could easily make the decision to become one again. “I support being against animal cruelty,” Patterson said. “I got involved in that movement for a while. But, if I don’t get protein it’s really bad for me. So I had to go back to eating meat or I would have been really sick.”

But now that there is a station for vegetarians, Patterson can eat the meatless food served, which is packed with protein. “I really like the vegetarian station, seeing that I don’t eat meat at the dining hall anymore, I still need protein,” she said. “The things that they have been offering are good protein sources.”

Her advice to the dining hall staff is to always have a second option at the station. “I’ve gone there before and I wish there was something other than the Boca burger,” Patterson said.

Keith Atkins, executive chef

Atkins also told me about many different eco-friendly changes the dining hall has made. A few semesters ago they got rid of the trays in the dining hall. They were deemed a waste of water and a luxury. Also, all the dining hall cleaning products are environmentally safe. Everything used from the tables to the hand sanitizer to the dishes is all “green.”

“We want to thrive and get all ‘green’ and make sure we can get healthier food for the kids,” he said. “That’s our number one thing. If it weren’t for the kids, we wouldn’t be here. We want to give them what they want.”

Atkins said the dining hall is also willing to donate to the composting project that I have implemented. We are now working together to get that program started to reduce the amount of waste the dining hall produces.

ARAMARK has made other changes to accommodate the vegetarian/vegan population. The new station is located next to the omelet station, which could also easily feed a vegetarian. Hummus and tofu have been added to the salad bar, along with wraps. Also, SILK soymilk is next to the cereal.

The pizza station will always have a cheese pizza and a veggie pizza and there is always a “heart-healthy” vegetable option that is made vegan next to the entrees. Also, the pasta is cooked and left separate from the sauces.

“Even if it is a fad, it’s what the students want right now,” Adams said. “So they’re catering to what we want and they’re really making an attempt, which is nice.”

Lauren Belcher is managing editor for The Gargoyle. In her column, New Leaf, she introduces environmental issues and offers ways to fight environmental destruction. She is a Communication major and Environmental Science minor at Flagler College. Belcher is also heading off an on campus vermicomposting system and is the secretary of Greenpeace.

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