Akash Satpathy, a senior majoring in astronomy and data science, is one of the many frustrated vegans at the University of Arizona.
In his sophomore year, he tried to start a plant-based diet, but realized that it was extremely hard on a UA meal plan.
“Given the lack of options, there was just no way I could go plant-based,” Satpathy said. “I was thinking, 'I cannot be the only one who went through that, right?'”
He was right. Looking at current Arizona Student Unions offerings, out of the 31 restaurants included on the UA meal plan, less than half provide substantial plant-based options.
The University of Arizona Veggie Cats club is working to change that by pushing to expand options for students who prefer plant-based diets.
Of the 1,550 UA students who responded to a Veggie Cats online survey last fall, 75% said they are somewhat unsatisfied or extremely unsatisfied with the diversity of food options on campus.
Satpathy coordinated the survey for the Veggie Cats and a petition to the UA administration.
In the fall, Satpathy, backed by the club, created a petition for more plant-based options on campus. They hit their goal of 1,500 signatures in early December and have continued to promote the campaign.
Since then, the Veggie Cats have been working on their official “white paper,” or proposition, to the university. They have had two meetings with the director of dining and nutrition to discuss what changes are possible and the university’s standpoint on this issue. They have also met with the Office of Sustainability.
Mari Calalang John, an assistant director at the Arizona Student Unions, said the university is “always looking to add additional plant-based options to our offerings.”
“Next year we are looking forward to opening two more restaurants that will be all-you-care-to-eat, provided we can get funding and are better staffed,” John said. “We are hopeful funding will be available to open this location and it would be great if the Veggie Cats could support us with this.”
John said the UA is part of the National Food Forward program, which provides training on creating plant-based options. Though she listed many vegan and vegetarian food options across campus, such as IQ Fresh and Nrich Urban Market, the Veggie Cats say it’s not enough for much of the plant-based student population.
Only 10% of the plant-based food items on campus have over 400 calories and 15 grams of protein, which is insufficient for a strong diet, according to Satpathy. Ideally, a well-rounded meal should be 700 calories with 25 grams of protein, but that accounts for just 5% of plant-based campus options.
For the average student eating three meals at the UA a day, these numbers do not allow them to get the nutrients and variety they need on a plant-based diet.
Emily Wright, a junior majoring in journalism and religious studies, has been a member of Veggie Cats since fall 2020. She said that in her first year at the UA, on a meal plan, she ended up rotating through the same four-to-five vegan meal options.
“I really hope we can get the ball rolling on bringing more vegan options to campus, both for the benefit of the university and the UA community’s health,” Wright said.
The Veggie Cats are finishing the research part of their campaign and shifting focus to their white paper, while still collecting signatures on their petition. Though they are advocating for changes to be made now, the full impact of their campaign may not be reached until 2024 or 2025.
Satpathy is optimistic about the future of the petition and its ability to make real change on the UA campus, whether with increased plant-based options at current student union restaurants or new dining options altogether. He said he wants students like him, who have interest in the plant-based lifestyle, to have a real chance at transitioning into it, even on a UA meal plan.
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