This past Monday I had the opportunity to return to my alma mater, the University of New Hampshire. Although it seems like just yesterday that I was there, clearly the campus has changed and modernized in my absence. We made our way to Holloway Commons to grab a quick bite and all I could think of was my many meals on campus, including the MUB. Back in the day as a vegetarian in college, the best I could hope to get was diced up tofu straight out of the package from the salad bar. The rest was hamburgers, pizza, and other assorted non-healthy college fare. But to my surprise, this is not what dining at UNH is like anymore. My jaw dropped as we entered the huge dining area. My husband commented on how it reminded him of a cruise ship with various stations and different food options. They even have a vegan station! Here is a link to their menu page as it is quite amazing.
But what does this have to do with travel or cruises? Everything! If a college campus can accommodate vegetarians and even vegans, why can’t there be more of the same on cruise ships? Colleges want to keep their students happy as they are paying for the food and returning every year for more of the same. If they aren’t happy, they leave campus and eat elsewhere and eventually, they end up staying off campus. UNH, for example, has found a way to provide healthier options that taste good so the students want to eat on campus. Yes, on a cruise you can request special meals, but so few people do that the meals are less than gourmet and fall flat on the taste and wow factor. Eating vegan doesn’t mean twigs and berries only and vegan food can and should taste great. This experience was such an eye opener to me that I am shocked I haven’t felt this way before. Clearly the number of vegans and vegetarians is increasing so why haven’t cruise lines kept up with the trend? There is such a dichotomy between healthy eating and traditional cruise food, but by offering healthier tasty options, they could appeal to more people, including those who would never consider cruising as a vacation option.
Let’s be honest here. It’s not like I’m trying to convert people to veganism or make the only food choices available vegan. I am, however, perplexed as to why the cruise line industry, for example, is slow to accept that there are a growing number of people who eat this way and do desire great tasting food. I’m not attacking the cruise line industry at all. In fact, this is true of the airlines, hotels, and even more restaurants in general. Instead of observing a growing trend, embracing it, and joining in early to promote it before everyone else does, I bet that vegans aren’t even on the radar for most corporations.
In 2006, the Vegetarian Resource Group determined that 1.4% of the US population was vegan. Although a small percentage, that translates out to millions of people and that statistic is now 5 years old! Perhaps the cruise lines could benefit from observing the college campuses across the United States to see how their future potential guests eat and anticipate what they need to do to change to accommodate them. More importantly, they could institute these changes sooner than later.
One last note of interest was a comment the Dean of Health and Human Services at UNH said to me. She mentioned that they introduced “hydration stations” in the dining rooms near the soda fountains. Basically, these are water fountains with regular water or that have fruit in them, like lemon. They never talked about them or pushed them, yet by doing this they reduced the amount of soda syrup used in the soda fountain by 50%! If given the option, people will take the healthier choice. If given the option of healthier, vegan food, I do think people will make the right decisions. My biggest suggestion to any cruise line (if they were open to listening to me) would be to speak with Isa Chandra Moskowitz, author of many vegan cookbooks including my favorite, “Veganomican.” Improve the food choices and food quality and you have a brand new subset of potential cruisers waiting to spend money on your product.
What do you think? Do you believe that the cruise lines should offer meals for vegans and vegetarians?