College campus cafeterias work to keep up with students' changing tastes

by Silas Allen Modified: July 18, 2013 at 9:30 am •  Published: July 17, 2013

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.

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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.

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by Silas Allen
General Assignment/Breaking News Reporter
Silas Allen is a news reporter for The Oklahoman. He is a Missouri native and a 2008 graduate of the University of Missouri.
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