Vegan dining resolution at UTA: hurdles and results

Last semester, Student Congress passed Resolution 11-19, a resolution aimed at making healthy, plant-based meals more accessible in the Connection Cafe. The resolution, inspired by the all-vegan dining hall at the University of North Texas, called for increased vegan options and ingredient labels on all foods served in the cafe.

Photo courtesy of Richard Hoang (The Shorthorn).

After the resolution was passed, it was sent to President Spaniolo’s office for review. Nursing senior Zak Murphy, a student senator on the resolution’s research committee, has kept me updated with the progress of the resolution. While it is well-known that resolutions can take time to implement, Spaniolo’s course of action came as a disappointment to both of us–as we had both worked very hard to get the resolution on the table. 

The hurdles…

Spaniolo sent the resolution back to Student Congress, informing them that he forwarded it to David Albart (Director of Housing and the University Center) from Dining Services. In Spaniolo’s opinion, the needs of the students were already being met but not communicated effectively. Murphy told me that he has heard this noncommittal answer from Dining Services before, during his research process. To hear it again from Spaniolo, after several months of research and collaboration is disheartening, at the least.

If Spaniolo’s opinion was accurate, Resolution 11-19 would not have garnered so much support from our diverse student community. In addition to its unanimous passage in Student Congress, the resolution was co-authored by no less than eight student groups. Even the student senators on the research committee personally visited the Connection Cafe and discovered the need for changes firsthand.

Contrary to President Spaniolo’s opinion, a great number of students recognized that not all of our needs were being met. We were determined to ensure that our collaborative efforts with Student Congress would not go unnoticed by Dining Services.

Not long after we received news of President Spaniolo’s review, we approached Dining Services directly. The Vegan Club’s treasurer, education junior Andrea Fleeman, scheduled a meeting with Chee Wee Lee from Dining Services. It was not the first time Vegan Club had sent a representative to them, but it was certainly the first time we got such a receptive response.

Armed with a copy of resolution 11-19 and a list of concerned emails and comments from various students, Fleeman had a productive discussion with Dining Services. She emphasized that she lives on campus and is directly impacted by the lack of vegan options on a daily basis.

Dining Services informed Fleeman that they had actually never heard of Resolution 11-19, but they were very eager to start working on implementing the proposals in the resolution. They kept the copy of Resolution 11-19, as well as the comments and emails for reference.

I greatly appreciate these efforts from Dining Services, but I do not appreciate that for whatever reason, President Spaniolo didn’t pass the resolution thoroughly to Dining Services.

Andrea Fleeman’s plate includes specially requested tofu. Everything was from the Connection Cafe, except the quinoa, which Fleeman cooked herself. Photo courtesy of Andrea Fleeman (Vegan Club).

Finally, some results: 

Dining Services promised Fleeman that the vegetarian station would be changed to an all vegan station in the Connection Cafe. In addition, separate utensils will be used, and the staff will be trained to know the difference between vegetarian and vegan.

“The staff is really making an effort to understand veganism. One of them even approached me during dinner to advise me to get a smoothie without white sugar at the smoothie station. I really appreciate that they are even paying attention to things like bone-char processed sugar!” said Fleeman.

The promised date of the changes was September 19th, but it is apparent that Dining Services is still working on the transition.

Currently the vegetarian station offers no vegan items during the weekend. However, from her recent experiences, Fleeman says students can request vegan meals and the staff will oblige.

A picture sent to me from Zak Murphy. While honey is clearly not vegan, the point is that the sign contains no ingredient information. Photo courtesy of Zak Murphy (Student Congress).

Ingredient labels have yet to be seen, but Dining Services assured us that they would be keeping us updated on the progress of vegan dining at Connections Cafe. Meanwhile, students are encouraged to approach the dining staff for help with food allergies or finding vegan options.

We’re not done yet!

Murphy and I have expressed our concerns with Student Congress president Jennifer Fox. We were told that Student Congress has scheduled future meetings with Spaniolo and Dining Services.

Fox has recently become the Chair of the Dining Services Committee for Apartment and Residence Life, so she will be meeting with Dining Services regularly. She says the dialogue will continue until the resolution’s proposals are completed in their entirety.

How have your experiences been with Dining Services lately? Have you noticed any positive changes, or do you have any concerns? Please share in the comments below!

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10 thoughts on “Vegan dining resolution at UTA: hurdles and results

  1. Char Duncan says:

    I am so proud of Ann Mai, the Vegan Club, and the Student Congress. It has taken a lot of patience to get this far. Many times you could have thrown your hands in the air and said “oh well, we tried!” I know you had to jump through a lot of hoops and I admire you for seeing this through.
    I am VERY disappointed in President Spaniolo. I would love for him to live ONE DAY on this campus as a vegan and then tell me that our “needs are being met.”
    You’re right – we are not done yet. But it looks like we might finally be well on our way. In another semester or two, new vegan students will be able to come to campus and take it for granted that vegan options are readily available to them. It’s your legacy!

    • missannmai says:

      Thank you so much, Char. The amount of support we have gotten has been so amazing, especially the dedication of student senators such as Zak Murphy. We’re trying. Here’s to the future!

  2. Pooja Patel says:

    I too am very proud of Ann Mai and the Vegan Club for all of their efforts and dedication they have put into this issue. However, even though Dining Services has taken into consideration vegetarian/vegan options, I don’t think they realize that the food is very unappetizing.
    I have been stuck with the meal plan for four years now, I am completely dissatisfied with what Dining Services is putting out for students to eat. I have avoided going to the vegetarian station so far this semester because of the lack of appealing food being served. I would suggest them to sit down and try the food they make before making the rest of us eat. Seasoning and edible meals can go a long way, just saying.

    • missannmai says:

      Thank you for your thoughts Pooja! I agree, the appeal of the food really does need some work. I think UNT’s options are far more appealing–UTA could take some pointers from them.

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