Although vegan-only facilities aren’t optimal, the University should increase vegetarian options throughout the week
PETA announced a contest Thursday that might be appetizing to some college students. The organization promises to pay $1,000 to the first student group that can successfully advocate for its university to transform one of its dining halls into a vegan facility. The specifics of this contest aside, the idea does prompt a dinnertime conversation about what options dining halls should make available. Although we don’t think it right for dining halls – many of which serve first years who mandatorily have meal plans – to go vegan, the University could nevertheless follow the lead of other schools by providing more options and educating students on these sorts of questions.
For a long time dining halls were the domain of the carnivores. In recent years numerous institutions have adopted more options, including Meatless Mondays where only, or mostly vegetarian cuisine is provided. The University’s equivalent – Meat Free Monday – simply offers an additional vegetarian entrée; a promising development albeit under a misleading name. The dining hall website outlines the rationale for this gesture, indicating its awareness of the environmental and nutritional ramifications of corn-fed, factory-farmed meat platters.
It is difficult to argue with the consensus on empirical matters summoned for the vegetarian defense. The fact is that the large-scale farming from which most meat is culled consumes fossil fuels and emits gases contributing to global warming. In terms of nutrition, it’s a dish-by-dish issue whether certain foods are better or worse for you as an individual: Both meats and vegetables can be stamped with the more appealing sticker of healthy. The ideal diet though, would require the sort of balance not possible when options are limited. Just as vegetarian options are out of vogue currently, a vegan-only dining hall might prevent students from getting certain vitamins and proteins they need.
There is also the matter of ethics. Traditionally, the argument begins as a matter of rights: animals stacked against humans. Things get heady from there. There are definitional questions about who is or is not an animal; who matters more, and who can feel pain; whether an anthropocentric moral system can be just at all. To really get at the issue would require extensive instruction, and hungry students just want to eat.
To make each act of ingestion a weighty decision about life and death omits the banal peculiarities driving our diets. Matters of taste, or what looks good, or the length of the line, or what we just had for lunch can all factor into the student’s decision to go meat or no-meat at a meal. And with or without any rationale students should be allowed to indulge as they choose.
So, no, we won’t be one of the groups contesting to vie that the Newcomb greenhouse only serve plants. But if Meat Free Monday just means adding a vegetarian dish, it would not be adding too much to Aramark’s plate to make vegetarian options more available daily.