Elsewhere in the cafeteria, workers dished out cheeseburgers and slices of pizza. But during the lunch rush Tuesday, chef Destiny Hand was plating beet ravioli with macadamia nut and red pepper puree.
Hand, the vegan chef at Oklahoma City University's cafeteria, isn't a vegan or vegetarian herself. But she tries to plan menus for the cafeteria's raw vegan bar that students will enjoy, whether they're vegan or not.
“I definitely don't want to send something out that I wouldn't eat myself,” she said.
When the cafeteria launched its raw vegan bar in 2010, OCU officials called it the first of its kind on an American college campus. But the university is hardly alone — colleges and universities nationwide are rethinking their campus dining options to keep up with changing student demand.
The cafeteria introduced the raw vegan bar after vegan students complained of too few options on campus, said Kelli Keegan, director of operations for OCU Dining Services.
Several of OCU's academic programs, including dance and musical theater, tend to draw students from around the country, including the east and west coasts. Students from those areas were looking for dining options that, at the time, weren't available on campus, Keegan said. So the cafeteria launched the bar to try to meet that demand, she said.
OCU isn't the only university feeling that pressure. Last year, the University of California — San Diego opened a vegan “eatery and lounge” on campus. In 2011, the University of North Texas converted one of its five campus dining halls to an all-vegan cafeteria.
Ken Botts, special projects manager at the University of North Texas, said the university had heard similar comments and complaints from vegetarian and vegan students about the options that were available on campus.
After experimenting with vegetarian and vegan dishes in the existing dining halls, the university decided to introduce a vegan-only menu in a dining hall that specialized in healthy foods.
The day the revamped dining hall opened, the line stretched out the door, Botts said, and the cafeteria has remained a popular option since then.
Culinary offerings on college campuses nationwide have seen a dramatic shift over the past decade, said Rachel Warner, a spokeswoman for the National Association of College and University Food Services.
Changing dining habits
Although the organization doesn't keep formal records about trends in college campus dining, Warner said she's seen many dining halls across the country ramp up their offerings for students with specific needs — not just vegan dishes, but also kosher, halal, gluten-free and allergy-friendly foods. Some are also beginning to bring food trucks onto campus, she said.
With the increasing popularity of cooking shows and celebrity chefs, American tastes have become more sophisticated, and diners have become more knowledgeable and willing to try new things, Warner said. As American dining habits change, campus dining halls are updating their offerings to keep pace, she said.
“It has changed dramatically,” she said.
But according to a new report, the nation's college students are looking for even greater changes. Food service consultant Technomic released its 2013 College and University Consumer Trend Report last month.
According to the report, just 35 percent of students reported being satisfied with their schools' dining programs. About half of the students surveyed said they were looking for greater flexibility in their dining options, with 53 percent saying they placed high importance on the ability to substitute an ingredient themselves.
But vegan-friendly options like those in OCU's cafeteria go a long way toward fulfilling that demand, said Addison Broberg, an OCU student from Edmond. Although she isn't a vegan herself, Broberg, 21, said the availability of healthy options in the cafeteria has changed the way she eats.
Although the quality of campus dining options might not be a deciding factor when a student picks a college, it's important to consider, Broberg said. When they pick a school, students aren't just choosing a major, she said — they're also choosing where they'll live for the next four years.
Taylor Tyler, an OCU student from Piedmont, agreed. Most students don't consider how important campus dining is until they're already on campus, she said.
Although she picked OCU for other reasons, Tyler, 21, said she was encouraged by the cafeteria when she toured the university as a prospective student.
“The first thing I noticed is that it was packed,” Tyler said. “That's always a good sign.”