by Rory Chinn
The famous vegan sausage rolls and chips; it’s the staple vegan option at The Buttery. Many post-night out stomachs have been healed by this plant-based dish. Despite this, seeing it sit alone as a vegan hot meal leaves students wondering if more choices will ever be available? I would like to make the case that there is a need for these and have outlined how vegan options can be integrated into the menu at The Buttery. This article takes the view that in life there is always room for improvement, with a greater variety of vegan options being such an area.
It is often a good idea to address the main underlying argument for environmental issues and in the case of veganism it is the devastating effect of meat on our planet. Whilst there is certainly a valid discussion surrounding the value of consuming meat, there is no room for argument regarding the environmental impact. PETA has found that it takes 25 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of wheat, whilst the equivalent amount of meat requires 2400 gallons of water. Clear as it is, what this figure does not expose is the additional issues such as deforestation to make room for grazing and greenhouse gas emissions from animals. Shockingly, Ireland produces more carbon emissions from agriculture than from heavy industry.
“having a position focused on student diet as a full-time or even intern capacity could be a valuable opportunity for students studying or interested in nutrition”
Concern for negative outcomes, however, is not the only way to approach encouraging veganism. Another is supporting emerging Irish businesses. One start-up that should attract the attention of Trinity as an institution is Plant-It, an Irish ‘alt-protein’ company, that received “overwhelmingly positive” reviews when it made its debut in the US last year. Supporting Plant-It by selling their products will encourage vegan companies to set up shop in Ireland. Furthermore, it also signals to students that environmentally friendly start-ups are a path to follow, a move that will pay dividends. I need not even mention that the name Plant-It refers to the company’s policy to plant 20,000 native trees around Ireland and the UK.
Environmentally conscious food can also be part of a socially conscious college. Professor Sarah Ray of Humboldt State University in California argues that environmental agendas require us to also reject social issues often associated with meat production. Furthermore, the current interest in vegan living in Dublin, like California, is considerably more accessible to wealthier students. Less financially well-off students, often minorities and under-represented groups in Irish society, deserve equal access to a healthy and environmentally conscious lifestyle. Supporting more vegan options in The Buttery means addressing social ills in our society in a green (and tasty) way.
What a vegan lifestyle means to students is continuing to enjoy food with the added external benefits to the planet. What this does not mean is ‘rabbit food’ of salads and kale every day. Vegan meat substitutes are viable options popular for the sake of being similar to meat but also for their own merits and taste. Jackfruit can be put in a stir-fry, tacos, or kebabs as an alternative to chicken. Seitan can be substituted for fried chicken. Deep-fried soy curls make for a spice bag that won’t leave your gut in twenty different places.
Price often concerns both students and vendors when it comes to implementing a vegan menu, but there has never been a more affordable time to serve vegan food. A cursory look at the options provided by Dunnes Stores speaks to this. Searching on the Dunnes Stores website reveals that vegan options and meat alternatives are often comparative in price or cheaper than meat. For example, a Vegan Tikka Masala will run you €4 whereas a non-vegan option costs €4.65. It is a similar story with bolognese: a vegan option costs €3.50 and an equivalent portion made with meat €3.00. Dunnes also stocks vegan foods that are not substitutes or vegan for the sake of being vegan. A dinner portion of falafel costs €2.50 or 2 for €4. Vegan meals do not have to be pricey.
Other world-leading universities have taken a committed approach to the vegan diet. Stanford, a university of comparable size (17,000 students), employs a vegan and plant-based food coordinator. What this means is that the ‘buffet-style’ food service has been designed with a balanced and exciting vegan diet in mind. Furthermore, a nutrition team on campus helps in designing student diets (if they enquire about it) to make sure that when they eat vegan, they do so in a nutritious way. This is a worthwhile expense in the interests of student health and well-being. Whilst Stanford certainly does have more funding than Trinity, having a position focused on student diet as a full-time or even intern capacity could be a valuable opportunity for students studying or interested in nutrition.
I reached out to The Buttery about this and received a quick and open response. The answers are from Moira O’Brien, the head of the catering department. She stated that “vegan options are always available”. These options can be found in the breakfast, lunch, and soup options with pre-made salads and sandwiches every day. The Buttery, (the focus of this article) does certainly provide all these options however it may be noted that there is no ‘buffet style’ service. The effect of this is relatively little vegan choice over a whole year where the options do not change all that much nor is there much choice when it comes to warm vegan food.
In response to a question about expanding the number of vegan options in The Buttery, O’Brien noted that whilst they are “looking to increase our (Trinity Catering) range of vegan options” there are “commercial targets we must achieve”. Furthermore, The Buttery is “not a subsidised department” and from their current research, vegan options are “much more expensive to source”. Hopefully, this article will shed more light on some of the options available and encourage renewed efforts at affordable vegan food. Regarding staff working on vegan options, there is the Trinity Healthy Eating Committee, a team made up of O’Brien and Dr. Annemarie Bennet, as well as others such as qualified nutritionists.
What may be drawn from all of this is that there is room for improvement in the variety of vegan food options offered at The Buttery. What makes financial sense must always be considered in running a catering service, especially for such a large group of students. The hope is that greater variety will in turn encourage greater interest and make Trinity more accessible to vegan students.