Kenyon certainly likes to tout its recent steps taken to reduce its environmental impact. But if this institution truly cares about its environmental impact, further gestures toward sustainability must be taken. The sustainability proposal I have in mind will not give the College more energy-efficient gizmos and doodads. Nor will it likely find its way on the Kenyon website, as an ego-boosting pitch to prospective students. No, my pitch is humble. I want Kenyon to take to heart the words of Henry David Thoreau: “I was determined to know beans.”
Yes, I write about beans. And tofu and seitan and tempeh. I write about Peirce Hall’s lack of delicious, high-protein and easily accessible vegan meals. I write about how this College discourages its students from eating vegetarian or vegan.
Eliminating meat from the diet can significantly reduce one’s environmental impact, yet Kenyon does not do enough to support the sustainable choices of some students.
Should they eat only on the meal plan, Kenyon students have only one dining option on campus. Granted, the semesterly board charge covers more than just meals, but a large portion of the $3,520 goes toward the mandatory meal plan. Assuming that a student eats 20 meals a week, over approximately 15 weeks, the cost per meal is $12.73. Approximating out other fees associated with the board, we might say that a Peirce meal costs about $10 for students. For many students, any food costs beyond the daily $30 are inconceivable.
These students are going to choose to eat meat-free only if Peirce can provide them with all their food needs — that is, vegan dishes that are tasty, healthy and accessible.
First, the good: I am usually more than happy with the taste of the vegan dishes that are made at Pierce. While individual preferences vary, I think it undeniable that AVI staffers work hard at making delicious food and that, by and large, they succeed at what they do.
Next, the not-so-good: Eating a well-balanced vegan diet can be difficult at Peirce. It is not uncommon to find the vegetarian line stocked exclusively with starches and vegetables. Think of the recent vegetarian paella — composed of white rice and vegetables — or vegetable curry as examples of this phenomenon. Yes, vegans have a particular appreciation for vegetables, but they need protein like everyone else. Vegan food can be protein-rich, but only if special care is taken to include legumes and meat substitutes. Protein is missing from many of Peirce’s vegan options, and this is especially the case at breakfast. AVI should provide more options than potatoes, oatmeal and toast if the College wants to support their meat-free students.
Vegan options at Peirce are not only lacking in protein but they are ,often, quite simply lacking. When they exist, they must sometimes be ordered by special request. Having to ask individually for a vegan meal may discourage many students from adopting a vegan diet because they do not wish to feel like a burden on AVI staffers.
Kenyon should be applauded for its recent initiatives to make this campus more eco-conscious. Not only have the past few years seen the introduction of an environmental studies major, but several campus buildings now feature solar panels. As of this past spring, the central steam plant sports solar thermal technology. However, should Kenyon really care about sustainability, as indicated by the College’s pledge for eventual carbon neutrality, then having AVI encourage sustainable diets should be a priority.
Cameron Austin ’20 is mathematics and philosophy major from Chattanooga, Tenn. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.