Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Is Mason America's Most Vegan-Friendly School? Not According to PETA.

Perhaps you missed it (most people did) but Mason was recently competing in PETA2’s Most Vegan Friendly College competition. The contest’s blink-and-you-missed-it first round ended yesterday and Mason was knocked out by our perennial rivals: UMD. The news here isn’t that we lost, it’s that we were even competing at all. Ask any vegan at Mason how they feel about their food choices on campus and you’ll most likely get a barrage of complaints against Sodexo and Mason Dining and the lack of vegan options at Mason.

The contest, which started in 2006, works like this: schools are put into one of three categories- small colleges, large colleges, or colleges in Canada. In both the small and large college categories, 32 schools are divided into eastern and western divisions and pitted against each other in pairs. Each school is supposed to get its fans to go the website and vote for it. Mason was put into the large college category in the eastern division, head-to-head with UMD. Perhaps not surprisingly, the Terps won. In some of the other match-ups, NYU beat Cornell, BU bested UConn, and the University of Florida topped VCU. UMD now faces off against Towson in round two.

Luckily, Mason’s populace hasn’t been hoodwinked into showing school pride where it doesn’t deserve it. The profile of GMU on PETA2’s website claims, “Prospective students wanting to be within a stone's throw of the U.S. capital and within arm's reach of delicious vegan food—look no further. Within the past year, GMU has really kicked its vegan offerings into high gear, in direct response to negotiations and discussions with students.” It even goes so far as to say, “it's easy to see why GMU has been called the number one up-and-coming university in the U.S.!” To many vegans, this seems like a slap in the face. According to oft-quoted co-chair of Mason’s Environmental Action Group Jason Von Kundra, “There are no good vegan options on campus and there is hardly any ingredient transparency at most dining locations. I, along with several other vegans at GMU, get all of our food outside of campus because it's so bad.”

While it would be nice to to actually be a vegan-friendly school, Mason still has a long way to. To have received recognition this year, even by simply making it out of the first round, would have been a step in the wrong direction as it would have allowed Sodexo to pat itself on the back for the few paltry measures they have implemented. Hopefully by next year, with the help of the Environmental Action Group and other concerned students, Mason will have something to be proud of in terms of its dining options. The EAG is currently pushing Sodexo and Mason Dining to adopt sustainable food practices, including offering more vegan and vegetarian options. The EAG is even demanding an all vegan/vegetarian eating establishment on the Fairfax campus. That would go a long way toward giving Mason something to be proud of.

Editors Note: When asked for the specific results of the competition, a representative from PETA2 refused to provide numbers beyond saying that last year, “more than 20,000 votes were cast in the competition.” It remains unclear as to how many people actually voted or how many votes Mason received.