An animal activists' handbook
11. promoting VEGAN food
How to Get Vegetarian Food in Your Canteen
This section is for anyone whose university, college, school or workplace doesn't offer much for vegans and vegetarians in its canteens. This was the situation at Bristol Polytechnic in 1990. Over a period of a few months, the student Animal Rights Group convinced the Polytechnic to offer acceptable meals. It took time, and we believe that by using the methods we discovered, it should be possible to get the same results anywhere.
"Thanks" to the Tories, canteens are now run as businesses. The manager will be afraid of a commercial disaster which would make her or him look bad and lose their contract. You can take advantage of this. Your job is to show the canteen what a wonderful opportunity they have to increase sales. You must do this in a thorough and business-like fashion. Animal rights will cut no ice with them, and health not much more. This is an issue of choice, fulfilling their contractual obligation to cater to all customers, and increasing turnover.
Research Your Case
Go to the canteen and see what is there. Bite your tongue and resist the temptation to put anti-meat stickers everywhere. Ask the chefs what they think about vegetarian food. You may get lucky and find that one of them has veggie tendencies.
Find out how many students are vegetarian or would like a vegetarian option in the canteen. Get figures from your national vegetarian society for the percentage of young people avoiding meat. In Britain you can say that 25% of women under 30 do not eat red meat, or 18% of students, and that these numbers are rising. You could do a survey of people going to the canteen. Even more importantly, find out what proportion of students do not eat there and find out why. This is a great project for marketing or economics students.
Make a CHOICE! petition, like the ones produced by Animal Aid and the Vegetarian Society which in the 80's got vegetarian food into almost every school in Britian. Take a standard petition form and at the top put something like "We the undersigned note that the canteen does not cater adequately or consistently for vegetarians and vegans and believe that a choice of vegetarian dishes and at least one vegan dish should be offered every day." Then get people to sign at a stall outside the canteen.
Find out if there is a catering committee for your college. At Bristol Poly, the committee was chaired by a lawyer who ensured that everyone got their point across fairly.
State Your Case in Writing
Write to the catering committee or whatever committee is responsible for the canteen. You need to write to allow time for the committee members to think about what you say. Also, by writing you force them to reply. Your job is not to convert the committee to vegetarianism, but to present veggie dishes as a sound commercial decision. Make the following points politely but firmly in about two pages:
X% of students in your country are vegetarian. This proportion is increasing. These students have the right to choose what they eat. The canteen has a monopoly on catering, and therefore an obligation to provide for them.
This is what the college is offering vegetarians: pizza made with cheese made with rennet from the stomachs of freshly killed calves, factory farmed eggs, fish, salads consisting of lettuce and tomatoes with no protein content. Say that this is not what you want.
Tell them that you want non-animal protein and wholefoods. Say that vegetarians like to replace animal proteins with beans, nuts and seeds. We prefer long grain brown rice. We want salads with beans and nuts. Remember, don't push the advantages of being a vegetarian, just make it clear that this is what you, their clients, want. You can say however that this kind of food is recommended in Health Education Council leaflets as a nutritionally superior replacement for animal products.
Say that vegan dishes have cheaper ingredients.
Say that wholefood dishes will attract people who do not currently use the canteen.
Get the excellent Vegan Society catering pack for £1.95 and give it to the canteen. You could also try the Vegetarian Society (UK) for a copy of their catering pack, though the last time we rang up all we got was a brochure for their cookery school. You might be able to get a photocopy of it. Or arrange for the packs to be sent direct to the canteen manager. Make sure they know however that many vegetarians will not eat the TVP (textured vegetable protein soya meat) suggested in the VSUK pack, though many meat eaters will. And point out that vegetarians are fed up with bloomin' cheese, cheese and cheese in every flippin' meal and it's the last thing they want to see.
At Bristol Polytechnic the chefs ordered ready made vegetarian meals. This was their idea. These meals are very expensive. They then used their professional expertise to clone the meals for a fraction of the cost. Suggest that your canteen does the same. They can offer vegetarian dishes on an experimental basis to see what the response is. If they don't like you, they may go along with it just to prove you wrong. Or the committee may force them to. They'll be in for a big surprise. Heh heh heh!
Get People Behind You
Give copies of the letter to all the officers of your Student Union, the editor of your student magazine, and everyone on the catering committee, and put this on the bottom of the letter. The letter should be typed, and signed by as many people as possible, including lecturers and officers of any vegetarian groups, and maybe an Indian students society.
See the President of your Student Union.
If you haven't done a petition yet, now's the time to prove just how many students want a decent choice of grub, even if they're not veggies.
You will probably be invited to the next Catering Committee meeting. When you arrive, remember that you have already made your case in writing. The canteen manager may be very defensive. Don't attack them or what they have been offering in the past - they probably did not know any better. If you are unsure about avoiding deadlock arguments, we recommend you read Getting to Yes in the Resources chapter. For real bastards, er we mean intransigent people, read Getting Past No.
Just say that the canteen should cater for all the students, and that as times are changing, you believe the menu should change too. Ask if they willing to consider vegetarian options. Hopefully you will get an agreement to try something. If not, you have your petitions, with between 100 and 1,000 signatures, to hand to the Chair of the meeting. Remember that the Committee has the authority to tell the canteen to change. At the very least, you should get their agreement to conduct some experiments.
If you don't get what you wanted, go to the student magazine with a report of the meeting and discuss with your student union what to do next. However, this was not our experience at Bristol Polytechnic. This is what happened.
Although the canteen manager was clearly sceptical, Andy, one of the chefs, ate meat only twice per week. He obtained samples of vegetarian prepared meals and cloned them. He tried offering various vegetarian dishes. The nut roast was the disaster, but the five bean stew was a massive success. Meat eaters liked the new dishes too. We had to point out that on some days they offered two vegan meals, and on others nothing but veggie stuff, and he appreciated the feedback.
Getting a Result
And the result? At Bristol Polytechnic (Now the University of the West of England, Bristol or UWEB) there is now a vegetarian counter in the canteen with four dishes, of which at least one and sometimes two are vegan. They use vegetarian cheese. They still use factory farmed eggs because of cost. There is usually a bean or nut salad, but not every day. And best of all, the vegetarian counter is the most popular one of all, because loads of meat-eaters like it too!
We've done it three other times. Straightforward negotiation achieved a daily vegan dish at the canteens of British Airways and Merril Lynch, and at National Power we persuaded the cook to do extra individual dishes for vegans. Every year it gets easier. If you find you're just not getting anywhere with your canteen, write to us and we'll have a word on your behalf. We always get what we want.
And of course once you've veganized the canteen, it will make veganizing the rest of your college a whole lot easier!
Food Case Study
UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA
Vegan students at the University of California-Berkeley are finding dorm food a little easier to swallow these days. Activists at the school have successfully petitioned for improved dorm cafeteria meals that not only skip the meat but also leave out dairy products, eggs and honey.
Berkeley has been dishing up vegetarian meals for at least seven years, says Nancy Jurich, assistant director of dining services, and vegan food had been available 90% of the time. But according to Leor Jacobi, a recent Berkeley grad and an organiser of the food reform movement, the options were inadequate. Jacobi says that vegan students had been forced to eat salad, baked potatoes and bread day in, day out.
Working with two campus groups, Students in Support of Animals and The Coalition of Students for Healthy Dorm Food, Jacobi circulated a petition for improved vegan options; he obtained signatures from 1,200 dorm residents, one fifth of all students living in dorms. The groups then met with dorm administrators, armed with the Physician's Committee for Responsible Medicine's Gold Plan, which supplies vegan recipes and nutritional information to food service personnel, and other supportive material.
"Our seeds did fall on fertile soil," says Jacobi of Berkeley administrators, adding that Jurich, a former vegetarian, was "very open to our pleas." Following the meeting, the administrators received the results of a poll it had conducted, which showed that 15% of dorm residents are vegetarian; 5% of the total are vegan, up from 1% in 1993-94. The deal to improve vegan dorm food was sewn up at a second meeting.
On January 11th 1995, the university dining halls served an all-vegan lunch to celebrate a daily vegan menu option. About 525 people feasted on such dishes as chili, stir-fry vegetables, tofu kebabs with peanut sauce, hummus, lentil dal and rigatoni. "It went great," says Jacobi. "Only a couple of people complained about not having their meat, but we expected that."
For students who want to see more vegan - or even more vegetarian - options in the lunch line, Jacobi has a few tips: Draw attention by circulating a petition. Work with the student government; the Berkeley groups persuaded the student government to unanimously pass a resolution in support of vegan food. Have plenty of information ready to give to administrators and food service staff. Finally, stresses Jacobi, "make sure you don't turn it into a vegetarian vs. non-vegetarian issue. Do your best to try to include everyone in the discussion."
Vegetarian Times, April 1995 Vegan Action is on the Web at http://www.vegan.org
American activists are also recommended to check out the EarthSave catering pack.
Campaign Against Cruelty An Animal Activists Handbook
available for £4.99 (plus p&p) from Vegetarian Guides