By Mel Natwick ’12
Through unique vegetarian meal creations, Dining and Culinary Services gives Pacific Lutheran students alternative ways to eat the way they choose.
A collaborative effort between sous chefs, line cooks and management staff helps Dining Services create the vegetarian meals. Some of these staff members are vegetarian or vegan themselves who help design the menu, Director of Dining & Culinary Services Erin McGinnis said.
Food options are separated into four stations: Crave, Aglio, Cross Cultures and Good Things. Dining Services has the goal to include at least one vegetarian option at every food station, said PM Sous Chef Doug Hinners.
“Our goal is that a vegetarian would have the same number of options at each station as a meat eater who does not like vegetarian options,” Hinners said.
He also said they are moving out of an old menu system in order to include more vegetarian options since old items are removed from the menu each year.
“As we exclude those old menu items that don’t really suit the modern palette, we are always adding vegetarian options with each of those,” Hinners said. “It’s a slowly evolving process, but we do include more options every year.”
Dining Services incorporates vegetarian meals throughout the week, but took an additional step this year to incorporate the student-driven campaign Meat Free Monday into the meals.
The campaign raises awareness of the consequences of “heavy meat” eating to people’s health and the environment.
“We are trying to build awareness that meat-free can be delicious and nutritious,” Erin McGinnis said.
AM Line Cook Anthony McGinnis is a vegetarian. He is in charge of the Cross Cultures station, which serves students a broad spectrum of ethnic dishes including those from Asian, South American and Latin American cuisines.
“We took things that were popular on their own and do not require meat to taste good,” Erin McGinnis said, “and someone who is not vegetarian will still take it because it is still a popular item.”
Anthony McGinnis said Meat Free Mondays have been very successful in the Cross Culture station. Falafel is a popular meal on Meat Free Mondays. It is served as a sandwich where lettuce, tomatoes and tahini are stuffed into pita bread.
“I’m blown away how falafel is doing on its own,” Anthony McGinnis said. “I know our falafel is great, but I did not know it would have done well as it has on Mondays.”
Cross Cultures usually serves Asian dishes and commonly serves tofu when making vegetarian dishes. However, students do not always like tofu.
“There a lot of people I know that do not like tofu so that shouldn’t be the go-to alternative, pesci-vegetarian sophomore Mamie Howard said. “They can definitely prepare stuff that does not necessarily have tofu.” A pesci-vegetarian eats fish, but not poultry.
A difficulty with vegetarian meal planning for Dining Services is the limited space that staff has to serve the meals and the variety of vegetarianism. Hinners said that they try to incorporate a vegan meal each night, but it is extremely difficult and they are not always successful. A vegan diet consists of no animal-derived food, including eggs and dairy products.
Junior Mikela Villagomez has been a vegetarian for seven years. Vegetarianism is an important life decision for Villagomez, and said she is always getting grilled cheese sandwiches and salad at PLU, but it is never filling.
“It is a really big part of my life,” junior Mikela Villagomez said. “It is a conscious decision that I made since I was a child. It’s really important to me.”
Incorporating meat analogues or meat substitutes is another difficulty. Erin McGinnis said that meat analogues are difficult to deal with because the reason why most people become vegetarian is to get away from the idea that it came from an animal.
“We bring out the meat analogue products and that’s frustrating to students,” Hinners said.
Some of the natural products include making paneer – an Indian, high protein cheese. The homemade paneer served at Cross Cultures is tossed with spinach and curry seasonings.
“We do not expect them [students] to just eat tofu, and that’s not our goal,” Erin McGinnis said. “That’s not what being vegetarian is about.”
Changes made to the menu are open all year long.
“I hope that it comes off that we really care about what we do here,” Hinners said. “I have a sincere personal investment that we do offer a wide selection of vegetarian options.”