The Vegetarian GourmetBy Steven R. L. Millman
Friday, March 20 is the date of this year's Great American Meat Out! In honor of this auspicious event, the Vegetarian Gourmet is devoting this week's column to the many vegetarian dining options available right here on campus. Next week's column will dispel some of the myths of vegetarianism. If you have any questions about any aspect of vegetariana, send them to the Vegetarian Gourmet at firstname.lastname@example.org.
With the aid of the MIT Food Service Director, the stalwart Kathy Richmond, the Vegetarian Gourmet braved the freezing weather and high winds to seek out vegetarian options available from MIT Dining Services. It was a pleasant surprise to find many options available for both ovo-lacto vegetarians (those that eat eggs and dairy but no meat) and true vegetarians or vegans. There has been an obvious and significant effort to make the meal selections on campus more friendly to herbivores both by increasing the number and quality of vegetarian options and by making them more easily identifiable. Over the next two weeks, all MIT dining services menus should have vegan items marked with a green triangle, and meatless items with egg or dairy marked with a green circle. These represent great improvements to the lot of the MIT vegetarian.
Our first stop was Walker Memorial (142 Memorial Drive, Building 50). All told, there are perhaps a dozen meatless items available and several vegan ones. There are a variety of salads and breads, Pizza Hut pizza, vegetarian roll-ups, pastas, garden burgers, and sushi, as well as the Fresh Flavors of Asia, which features self-serve vegetable and tofu rice or noodle bowls. Twice weekly there is a vegetarian pizza special (although there have been concerns about whether the sauce has animal products), and vegetarian soups, in addition to the always present vegetarian chili. In the fall they intend to add food wraps and a pasta bar. They were very happy to mix together unrelated items (rice and chili for example).
One very nice touch is that vegetarian dishes are cooked in separate containers and are served with separate utensils from those used for meat dish preparation. This is done campus-wide and should serve as a great relief to the loyal readers who fear such cross contamination. There is little less appetizing than finding a big hunk of sausage mixed in with one's tofu; although the Vegetarian Gourmet's brother might argue that exactly the reverse is true.
In the Student Center (84 Massachusetts Ave, Building W20) we visited Networks and the Lobdell Food Court. Networks prepares every meal individually, which takes more time but allows great flexibility in preparing your food. Substitutions are the norm, and the friendly staff will graciously substitute portabello mushrooms or tofu in place of some offending carnivorous option. In fact, every place we visited was willing to make substitutions when requested, an option unknown to too many frustrated veg-heads. In addition to the perfunctory fries, salads and soups, Networks serves a vegan tofu ravioli which has a marvelous slightly spicy taste and pleasant texture, although the marinara is far too watery (something the manager of Networks has promised would be remedied). They also serve garden and vegan burgers, portabello parmesan, tri-pomadora basil pasta, vegetarian wraps, and daily specials.
Lobdell Food Court of course houses a number of different options, including Itza Pizza, The Granary, Kitchen Classics, Fresh Flavors of Asia, and others. Every station has vegetarian options including, oddly enough, Burger King, which has an off-the-menu burgerless cheeseburger with everything but the meat for eighty-five cents. Go figure.
The Vegetarian Gourmet's Campus Best Bet is The Granary, which offers three daily vegetarian entrees prepared to order, most of which are vegan. These entrees are made with fresh vegetables, legumes, grains, potatoes, and flatbread, and are a very pleasant change from gardenburgers and salad. Also to be found at Lobdell are grilled vegetable sandwiches, pasta, pizza, a small salad bar, and tofu bowls.
One final note about the MIT Dining Service's vegetarian selections: it is truly a wonder to see how college food has improved for those seeking a plant based diet. Ten years ago, when the Vegetarian Gourmet was an undergraduate, times were much harder. Often the only vegetarian items would be the salad bar and french fries. One day the "Special Vegetarian Entree" was pork fried rice! Today, many more options are available, and MIT has made an honest effort to provide a veritable cornucopia of meatless options for the community it serves. While it should not be forgotten that anywhere that food is made in high quantity the quality will suffer, the selections are varied enough here to allow one to not have to flee campus for a decent meal. MIT dining services provides vegetarian meals that range from mundane and palatable to interesting and tasty. Take a trip around campus and see for yourself!