Stanford students petition for 'sustainable-food-themed' dining hall

Stanford University’s student government is planning to consider a resolution later this month calling for the creation of a “sustainable-food-themed” dining hall on campus.

Student senator Matthew Cohen of the Associated Students of Stanford University (ASSU), the co-author of a petition advocating for the new facility,told The Stanford Daily he plans to introduce the measure as a resolution at the student senate’s next weekly meeting on October 20, and expects a vote either one or two weeks later.

Cohen claimed that the petition has already received about 150 signatures, 140 of them from individuals who stated that they would “often” or “always” take advantage of the option were it to be made available, and also boasted that seven student organizations—including animal welfare, environmental sustainability, Jewish, and Muslim groups—have signed on as co-sponsors.

“This resolution is a prime example of student government working for Stanford students,” he declared, adding, “I hope that the University will listen to the clear voice of the students and create this dining hall to accommodate students’ vegetarian and sacred religious dietary practices.”

Residential & Dining Enterprises (RD&E) director of communications Jocelyn Breeland, however, indicated that a new dining hall would be redundant, given that RD&E already goes to great lengths to accommodate such dietary restrictions at its existing facilities, though she also said the department welcomes student input and plans to meet with the resolution’s authors to discuss ways to improve the dining experience.

Vegetarian and vegan options, for instance, are already available at all of Stanford’s dining halls, as is halal meat upon request. Kosher options are more limited, but are still provided three nights per week in one dining hall for students who sign up in advance.

Stanford Dining also has an extensive sustainable food program, with offerings such as cage-free eggs, fair trade coffee, humanely-raised beef, and organic fruits and vegetables. Other sustainable initiatives include converting used cooking oil to biodiesel, encouraging daylight dining to reduce energy usage, and composting food waste.

In fact, The Stanford Daily reported earlier this year that the school was even named “Favorite Vegan-Friendly Large College” by peta2, the youth division of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.  

Yet David Kay, president of the People for Animal Welfare student group as well as a co-author of the resolution, told The Daily that he hopes the proposed dining hall would benefit more students than just those with dietary restrictions, pointing out that meat-eaters, for instance, could take advantage of it to make “incremental changes” to their diets.

“The average American’s diet results in the death of about 400 farm animals each year,” he asserted, “so choosing to eat a meal at a mostly vegetarian dining hall makes a huge difference in preventing animals from living these torturous lives.”

“The more students that eat sustainable food and the more universities that switch to sustainable food, it all adds up,” agreed Robert Mencis, a student and signatory to the petition. “Ultimately, even if it’s not overnight, it makes a big difference.”

The resolution must receive a two-thirds majority of 10 votes in the ASSU Senate, and while Cohen expressed confidence that it would meet that threshold, he also acknowledged that additional public pressure might be necessary to ensure that school administrators take action on it.

“I definitely think the University will respond once there’s an official resolution, in some sort of capacity,” he said. “But at the same time, we’re going to have to really start drumming up student support to show how many students really want this.”

Spokespersons for Stanford did not respond to Campus Reform when asked whether the university plans to take action in the event that the resolution is passed.

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