No thanks, I’m vegetarian

Few cafeterias serve good food, and the University of Calgary’s Dining Centre is no exception. The DC serves greasy, fattening, disgusting meals. But, while less than ideal, this is expected. Not expected is the lack of nutritious alternatives available to students with special dietary concerns.

Vegetarians require adequate sources of protein and iron, Muslims do not eat pork and many students have allergies to milk or other products. However, because these minority groups do not generate a large demand for special-diet alternatives, U of C Food Services does not cater to their needs.

Economically, this is understandable. However, all students living in Rundle and Kananaskis Halls, approximately 800 residents in all, are required by Residence Services contract to purchase a Food Services meal plan. The smallest plan is $1,935, with no refunds. Meal plans may only be spent at Food Services locations like Smash Hit Subs, Seasons Cafe and the Dining Centre, which provide plenty of choices for students that do not have specific dietary needs. Unfortunately, students who do must either spend extra money to dine elsewhere, or cope with poor nutrition.

The DC operates on a 21-day cycle. Of these 21 days, there are 17 meals with only pork and/or no vegetarian option. The vegetarian entrees offered include “cheesy-vegetable pies,” “fried rice with vegetables,” “corn fritters” and deep-fried perogies. This is unacceptable. Items high in carbohydrates like corn fritters hardly pass for nutritious meals regardless of diet, and including cheese in numerous entrees makes them unfit for vegans as well as anyone with dairy allergies. Even tasty non-meat options like “stuffed peppers” are made from rice and vegetables, failing to provide iron or protein.

According to a nutrition guide available at the University of Calgary’s Sports Medicine Clinic, the average male requires 8mg of iron per day, and the average female requires 18mg. It is difficult for anyone that is not consuming meat to obtain these levels. For example, one egg offers as little as 0.7mg, and a serving of spinach offers approximately 3mg. Most foods contain no iron at all, and many things considered high in iron, like broccoli, contain very little. Common side effects of iron deficiency are fatigue, moodiness and poor immunity–hardly desirable effects for students that are already under the stress of papers and exams.

The DC’s salad bar does offer spinach, a source of iron, but provides only tomatoes, mushrooms, cucumber slices and croutons as other ingredients (carrots, broccoli and celery are only available in large pieces for dipping). The grill offers veggie burgers daily, but these consist mainly of carbohydrates. These alternatives are also inadequate. It is absolutely essential that students gain access to more appropriate meal options.

In the past, students have had little opportunity to vent grievances like these. Each floor in Rundle and Kananaskis Halls may send a representative to attend Food Services Advisory Group meetings, but in general no major changes are ever made. This fall, however, there is a new assistant general manager; Kathy Clark. According to the minutes of the Advisory meeting on Oct. 3, concerns of vegetarians, vegans, Muslims and students with allergies will be considered in a new revised menu, although no specific changes have been announced. Hopefully these modifications will be sufficient to provide students on special diets with food that supplies proper nutrition. Otherwise, this will be yet another long and difficult year for residents who actually give a damn about what they eat.