Colleges That Offer Courses, Choices for Vegetarians

These schools provide ways for students to honor their dietary restrictions while still eating well.

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Hamburgers, hot dogs, and turkey subs are common staples in college campus dining halls. But seitan-stuffed mushrooms, vegetarian bacon, and General Tso's tofu aren't always as readily available.

For college students who choose to limit their diet—whether vegetarian, gluten free, Kosher, or vegan—finding a wide selection of food that both meets their needs and tastes good can be difficult, given the typically meager options in dining halls that often include little more than self-serve cereal stations and salad bars.

 "I definitely, definitely got bored of just having hummus, salad, and soy chicken once in awhile if [the dining hall] had it," says Katie Greene, a vegetarian and rising junior at Franklin and Marshall College who is looking forward to moving into an off-campus apartment where she'll have a kitchen to prepare her own meals. "At home, I didn't have a problem; my dad and sister are vegetarians. At school, it was difficult because our dining hall didn't necessarily offer that much."

For many, college is a time of experimentation, be it in academic interests, lifestyle changes, or diet. And with the number of college-aged vegetarians on the rise—12 percent consider themselves part of the dietary description, according to a 2009-2010 Bon Appetit Management Company survey—"students are ahead of the curve of their very campuses and food providers," says Chris Elam, program director of Meatless Mondays at the Monday Campaigns, a nonprofit public health initiative. "They have already moved to a more plant-based diet, and the campuses are following slowly."

 [See how college calorie counts are staving off the Freshman 15.]

 But some schools already have a multitude of opportunities for students to experiment with new ways of eating. Whether you're a seasoned vegetarian, are considering restricting your diet, or you simply want to learn more about the environmental impacts of eating meat, here is a selection of the colleges that may foster your lifestyle choices:

Strictly vegetarian cuisine:

For students at the Maharishi University of Management, going meatless is the norm, not an exception. The school in Fairfield, Iowa, where daily meditation is encouraged, only serves vegetarian and vegan foods. The same was true until March at Bastyr University near Seattle; now, campus lunches include one meat option. Founded by a vegetarian, the school emphasizes a natural health philosophy that is inherent to vegetarianism, says Director of Food Services Jim Watkins.

The culinary offerings at Bastyr are in stark contrast to what was served by Watkins's previous employer—the University of Washington—where he was executive chef to a large mass of students and where vegetarianism was a subculture, not pervasive. "You had to have a certain amount of traditional American-style college junk food," he notes. "You had to have hot dogs; you had to have fries; you had to have nachos and Rice Krispie bars." At Bastyr, where there are fewer than 1,000 students, "people are very sophisticated diners," Watkins says.

Food courses:

When several students at Westminster College asked theatre professor Nina Vought to teach them about her vegan eating style, she realized there was a demand for a culinary education with an environmental slant. Such was the impetus for Eco-Logical Eating, a monthlong course she's offered during the Salt Lake City school's May term for three years. Vought teaches the course in her home a mile from campus (students are required to get there using some form of alternative transportation) where she serves students vegan dishes, from French toast made with cashews to homemade bread pudding. 

"This is the first time for many of them that they realize vegan food is not [just] iceburg lettuce and carrot sticks," Vought says. 

[See if going vegan is the best diet for you.] 

The class has been wildly popular, requiring a second section and a wait list each year. It's been influential, too: Vought says many students have altered their eating habits after experiencing new foods and learning about environmental concerns.