General Tso’s chicken is Alex Allouche’s ’13 favorite Chinese food entrée. But when Yale’s dining halls replace the dish’s chicken with tofu, General Tso’s loses its appeal for Allouche.
“There’s nothing more disappointing than coming into the dining hall, seeing General Tso and realizing that it’s tofu, not chicken,” Allouche said.
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According to the most recent Yale Dining survey, conducted this past September, only 1.3 percent of Yale students identify as having a vegan diet, absent of all animal products. And yet, often to the chagrin of meat-eating Yalies like Allouche, vegan dishes usually represent one of six or seven entrée options at each hot meal served in Yale’s residential college dining halls.
While there is always a vegan option in the 12 residential colleges and Commons at each meal, this can sometimes just be the salad bar, said Regenia Phillips, director of residential options for Yale Dining. She defended the value of meeting vegan students’ needs, noting that non-vegan students also opt for vegan dishes. But while Dining administrators said providing vegan options is not inefficient, some students said they question the relative over-representation of vegan options on Yale’s menus.
Within Yale’s residential colleges, space limits the number of entrée options that can be served on a given night, and some students interviewed said that, given the small population of vegans at Yale, it is not necessary to cook vegan food in each dining hall.
“[The vegan options] take room away from other food that tastes better,” Ed Shaer ’13 said, noting that because each college’s servery space is limited, he would rather see an additional non-vegan option in the place of the vegan option.
Other non-vegan students echoed similar concerns, noting the inefficiency of serving vegan options in each of the 12 residential college dining halls and Commons. One alternative, suggested by Hayden Stein ’13, would be to cook vegan food for fewer dining halls, such as Commons and two residential college dining halls.
“If they’re spending less resources on vegan options,” Stein said, “then [Yale Dining] could spend more resources toward making regular food better.”
But five vegan students interviewed disagreed, noting that the fairness of Yale Dining’s current policy has allowed them to bond with members of their residential colleges during meals.
Eitan Fischer ’13, who is vegan, said eating in the Jonathan Edwards College dining hall is one of the most important things he does to meet and interact with the students in his college. Fischer noted that if vegan food were taken out of his dining hall, he would feel “unwelcomed” and would miss out on part of his college experience.
Jonathan Holloway, master of Calhoun College and chair of the Council of Masters, likewise said the Council of Masters opposes a policy in which different colleges would offer different menus.
“What the majority of [the residential college masters] feel is that keeping one college menu different from the others sets up feelings of inequality among the colleges that does a disservice to all,” he said in an e-mail.
Furthermore, Shebani Rao ’12 added, Yale Dining could risk contradicting its message of sustainability if it removes vegan food from dining halls.
“[Taking away vegan food] doesn’t go along with Yale’s own mission to promote sustainable food,” Rao said, “because a lot of the arguments for veganism are environmental arguments.”
PRESERVING THE ‘FAMILY’
While current Yale students know a Yale with largely consistent food options across all the dining halls, this system has not always been the case.
Yale Dining has only served the same menus across the residential college dining halls since 2006. Before then, as a part of the Yale Sustainable Food Project, Berkeley College had the only dining hall serving a menu of local and organic foods. Although the expansion of the YSFP was costly for Yale Dining, administrators said at the time that they took the action in the name of equity and environmental protection.
Today, Phillips said Yale Dining is still open to considering different dining options across the 12 colleges. Still, she said, the vegan option does not detract from non-vegans’ dining experiences. She added that many students, whether they identify as vegan, vegetarian or neither, nonetheless eat the vegan option the dining hall serves. Therefore, she said, producing the vegan option is not inefficient for Yale Dining.
Similarly, Holloway said having a unified menu — including vegan options — across the dining halls helps Yale Dining and the University as a whole to reduce costs.
“Buying in large quantities helps reduce cost and also allows growers/producers to minimize their own costs,” Holloway said in an e-mail, adding that these savings are then passed along to the University.
Of greater concern to Yale Dining, Phillips said, is fairness to all students. This includes allowing all students to take part in the residential college experience by eating in their dining halls.
“Why would you make them leave the family relationship of their college?” Phillips said.
In some ways, dining options at Yale already isolate students with specific diets.
The Joseph Slifka Center Dining Hall has been serving kosher meals in some form to the Yale community since 1995 to fulfill Jewish dietary requirements, Eric Samuels, who runs student outreach for the Slifka Center, said in an e-mail.
But, Samuels added, Slifka is open to any student on a Yale meal plan. Some non-Jewish students with special diets find their dietary needs best met at Slifka, he said. These students include Smith Shah ’13, who has been vegetarian since his birth because he follows Jainism.
Because the Slifka Dining hall serves a vegetarian option at every meal, Shah said he tries to eat at Slifka four out of every five weekdays. Though Shah said he thinks the vegetarian options in the residential college dining halls are adequate, he described them as “repetitive.”
“It’s always nice to have somewhere like Slifka,” Shah said, “where it feels like they cater to vegetarians and it tastes home-cooked.”
While it may seem feasible for vegan options to be allowed in only one dining hall, Phillips said there is no intention to make vegan students leave the “family relationship of their colleges” by changing the status quo. Yale students who do not follow a vegan diet still have something to gain from trying vegan food, she said, which will hopefully broaden their culinary horizons.
“We have some very good global cuisine that does not have meat,” Phillips said.
For students seeking these very options, today’s vegan entrées in the residential colleges include tofu Pad Thai at lunch and chana masala at dinner.