Dining Services started reforming its food options this semester to better cater to vegan students who expressed concerns about the quality of available choices.
Patrick Griffin, general manager of dining services, pursued an initiative with freshman Madeline Garfunkel to reform the menu after a conversation sparked while in line for stir-fry.
“The [vegan] food wasn’t right, the options weren’t there … we needed to fix it,” Griffin said.
The pair discussed the process of going vegan and the lack of choices the Dining Center offered to support the diet. Inspired, the two exchanged emails and organized a meeting on Feb. 16 that led to the menu’s reform.
Garfunkel said she was disappointed by the available vegan options when she started attending Emerson in the fall.
“I just kind of suffered through it,” Garfunkel said.
At the meeting, Garfunkel arrived with a list of ideas and a few students interested in furthering Dining Center changes. Griffin brought Executive Chef of Dining Services Jonathan DeLeon, and they both listened and offered ideas for potential menu options.
Garfunkel suggested adding dairy-free milk, vegan options during brunches, and a higher quantity of vegan desserts to the Dining Center menu.
Griffin said Dining Services met about 70 percent of the list’s requests by this month. Dining services placed a soy milk dispenser next to the refreshments, and now offer vegan breakfast Monday through Friday as well as a variety of new meals every day.
He pointed out the additions of plant-protein-based faux-chicken and dairy-free waffles as new menu items.
Griffin was hired by the college in September 2017 and hired DeLeon a month later. The two spent five years working together at Endicott College, where they noticed a growing vegan population.
The duo committed to veganism themselves for a full month and endured the tough search students face when trying to find a complete, satisfying meal. Then, they formed a new vegan station at Endicott.
“For me, being the culinarian, I found it hard,” DeLeon said. “So, I couldn’t imagine what students were trying to find.”
When DeLeon first looked at Emerson’s vegan station, he said he felt appalled.
“Different bean, different vegetable, same rice, same meal,” DeLeon said. “If I’m vegan and I come in and I see this seven days a week, I’m eating the same meal seven days a week.”
Griffin, Garfunkel, and the interested students set to create a makeshift vegan counsel. The group believes many students are either vegan or desire a healthy diet, and wanted to sustain diversity in the menu, Garfunkel said.
“It’s been so inspiring to attend vegan menu planning meetings and seeing such an open, progressive dialogue between students and Sodexo members,” vegan junior Kayla Burns said.
Sodexo chefs rely on a limited vegan menu pulled from their company database. Garfunkel said DeLeon cooks his own recipes for the menu, and this choice reflects his commitment to students.
The executive chef also completed an eight-hour training session this week in Watertown, Massachusetts, with various vegan meal ideas and preparations.
“I want to play with new ingredients,” DeLeon said. “Keeping it funky and modern, and not just the typical food that everyone thinks is vegan.”
Griffin believes there’s a disconnect between Dining Services management and students.
“It’s your DH. Whatever you want,” Griffin said. “Somebody wrote in about mac ‘n cheese, now we have it on two different stations.”
The makeshift vegan counsel plans to meet monthly to look at new complaints or request more services. Their next meeting is scheduled for Friday, April 13.
Future vegan options in the Dining Center include house-made salad dressings and new dessert choices.
DeLeon dreams of the vegan station reaching restaurant-quality. He plans on using the summer to practice and perfect next year’s menu with his staff.
“I want students to be happy when they come into the dining hall,” he said. “I want no one leaving hungry, no one leaving disappointed.”