Trying to address concerns raised by vegan and vegetarian students last semester, USC Hospitality has begun an initiative to increase the presence and awareness of alternative food options on campus.
The project, called V2O — which stands for vegan, vegetarian and organic — has three goals: expanding healthy eating options, labeling food more accurately and giving free weekly cooking demonstrations for students.
The idea for V2O came about after a number of students ate tamales labeled “vegan” at Everybody’s Kitchen in April, later discovering that the tamales had been made with chicken. The incident highlighted the need for accurate marking of food in the dining halls.
“I decided then to drive culinary initiatives and accommodate everybody’s needs,” said Thomas Moran, associate executive chef at USC, who is heading the project. “We are going to reach out to get more awareness of sustainability and vegetarians.”
For the first phase of the initiative, Moran and his culinary team decided to create new vegetarian, vegan or organic menu items for EVK and Parkside Residential Kitchen. The dining halls have so far offered more than a dozen V2O dishes, including roasted eggplant, squash, organic wheat berries and different kinds of potatoes, Moran said.
He added that there are more dishes to come.
“The options are infinite,” Moran said. “We want to not just provide food, but food for people to eat.”
Elizabeth Sandoval, a sophomore majoring in communication, said the new options were helping students make better decisions when eating at the dining halls.
“In general, you want to eat healthy, but it’s harder in these buffet-style restaurants,” she said. “I think it’s a good thing to offer more options to students.”
Even so, Sandoval said she is hesitant about how different the new food will taste.
“You might be eating healthy but the trade-off might be the taste,” Sandoval said. “It’s not going to work if it’s unappetizing healthy food.”
The second part of the initiative involved the creation of labels with the V2O logo to clearly identify food at the dining locations.
“It was always being referred to [as] the vegetarian, vegan, organic initiative so we decided to simplify it to something that clearly identifies the initiative and is not a mouthful,” said Alex Maloutas, a graphic designer from the USC Design Studio who worked with the visual aspect of the initiative.
Although the labeling process will include oversight from the director and the chef at the dining locations, Moran said the responsibility of accurate marking will ultimately fall to the staff at the dining facilities.
For students like Shaila Nathu, a junior majoring in philosophy who said the only meat she eats is chicken, the labeling ensures they know exactly what is in the food.
“It’s nice to know they are being proactive and doing something to reassure [us] that they care about health standards and hospitality,” Nathu said. “In general it’s very good to know what you’re eating.”
Moran will also offer free cooking demonstration, to educate students about healthy cooking as well as provide an open forum with the chef. The demos alternate between EVK and Parkside every Wednesday.
“The classes teach people how to cook and be a part of the culinary experience,” Moran said.
Roxanne Striar, a freshman majoring in theatre who participated in the first cooking class, said she enjoyed the experience.
“I love to cook so any chance to cook and eat healthy food I [take],” she said. “It was something to do on a Wednesday night that’s inexpensive, interactive and fun.”
USC Hospitality plans to expand the V2O initiative to include other dining locations and food options on campus, according to Maloutas, who added they also have a long-term plan to label grab-and-go items.
Moran said he wants to continue to increase the variety of vegan and vegetarian options offered.
“I’m driving this initiative from a food perspective,” Moran said. “We want to provide people the most variety, and separate our university from others.”