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Campus dining offers more than meets the eye for vegetarians

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Photo by Ashleigh Hollowell
The vegetarian section has been in Pack Café for three years. | Photo by Ashleigh Hollowell

At first glance walking into the Pack Café at Colorado State University-Pueblo there may appear to be only two vegetarian sections: the salad bar and the designated vegetarian entrée line. What many on-campus vegetarians might not realize is that their options are much wider than just these two areas.

“The most difficult part is educating people to really take a look around, ask questions and you know kind of explore what’s at each station instead of assuming ‘it’s the grill so there’s not going to be anything vegetarian,’” explained Claudia Walters, the director of campus dining.

The grill section in the Pack Café offers vegetarian burgers and, if requested, the chefs will clean a space on the grill to cook them to avoid cross-contamination.

Junior Maggie Geolat and freshman Jordyn Samolis, both vegetarians, said they want more variety on campus when it comes to vegetarian options. Geolat said she would enjoy more vegetarian options in the Cantina, which is located downstairs in the Occhatio University Center.

“The best thing about the selection is that it offers me a quick option to grab some vegetarian food without having to cook,” Geolat said. She has been a vegetarian for two years and has eaten on campus for three.

Samolis favors the salad bar in the Pack Café and has been eating on campus since the beginning of last semester.

She has been a vegetarian for 14 years, she said, “my whole life basically.”

To help better educate students about the dishes that are available to vegetarians, Walters said Chartwells has plans to re-vamp their menu.

A new executive chef was hired in November, and the dining service plans to place easily identifiable symbols on the sneeze guard glass to give students a visual icon representative of what is vegetarian friendly, as many restaurants do on their menus.

In addition to the vegetarian options inside of Pack Café, the Chartwells To-Go program features vegetarian friendly items at other locations around campus. The Pavilion outside of the Hassan School of Business, the Library and Academic Resource Center and the new General Classroom Building offer items such as Caesar salads, yogurt parfaits and mozzarella, basil and tomato sandwiches.

Walters said the General Classroom Building will soon offer fruit smoothies, one of which will be a blend of apple, spinach and kale.

The sushi bar inside the library also offers vegetarian selections such as avocado, cucumber and carrot rolls as alternatives to the traditional fish. Walters said after the tremendous success from opening the sushi bar this past fall semester, it will become a permanent feature on campus.

Vegetarian options have been available on campus at least as long as Chartwells has been in partnership with CSU-Pueblo, which is around eight and a half years, Walters said.

The original push for more vegetarian friendly options first came from the Dining Services Advisory Committee, which currently has six members. Over the years, Walters said, the Chartwells staff has made an effort to include some sort of vegetarian friendly option at every station.

The vegetarian entrée section itself was implemented when Walters began working at CSU-Pueblo with Chartwells, about three years ago.

“The first year I was here there were some people that expressed interest in more specific vegetarian things. That’s when we created the first vegetarian station,” she said.

The station was originally located on the right side of the cafeteria, but it was recently moved to the left side, which is a little more open and out of the way.

The move helped with the flow of traffic because “there’s less people selecting the vegetarian things,” Walters said.

“I don’t actually think that I’ve seen an increase in vegetarians, but I have seen an increase in students trying new things.”

This past fall semester, Chartwells implemented ‘Meatless Mondays’ after a push by Associated Student’s Government President Sarah Zarr. As part of a campuswide sustainability week event, the idea was proposed in partnership with the CSU-Pueblo Enactus club.

Chartwells gets all recipes for meals from a company supported database called ‘Webtrition’ that allows the chefs to search and select certain items and meals for specific stations, such as the grill or the vegetarian entrée area.

“The cost of the food is probably less, but the labor is more intensive because of the cooking style for it,” Walters said. “Every single vegetarian item on the vegetarian station is made that day fresh.”

The Chartwells contract is set to be renewed for 2017.

With the OUC construction happening between now and then, the dining service will be temporarily relocated and serving students from what is now the ballroom.

Walters said the same number of vegetarian options will still be available during this transition period. Once the construction is complete, she said there will be vegetarian options available at every single station, as well as specific sections to cook the vegetarian food.