About 23 percent of 18-to-25-year-olds follow a vegan or vegetarian diet, but still, most universities offer few plant-based food options, making it difficult for college-aged students to make sustainable, healthy choices. Now, food service giant Sodexo, which serves approximately 380 North American universities, announced that it is adapting its food selection, starting with Liberty University in Virginia.

This semester, Sodexo is replacing Liberty’s South Street Cheesesteaks with a brand new vegan and gluten-free concept called The Hungry Herbivore. The plant-based eatery is Sodexo’s first fully vegetarian and gluten-free concept on a college campus. The new dining outlet will provide Liberty students with an allergen-friendly option that completely reduces the risk of cross-contamination.

“Based on my nationwide research, there are limited restaurants that solely focus on gluten-free and plant-forward as it is extremely difficult to do,” District Chef Sarah Falls said to Food Management. “We are always striving to come up with innovative concepts which originate at Liberty University.”

The Hungry Herbivore’s menu features potato patty melts, nachos, meatball marinara pasta bowls, vegan burgers, and more. Despite offering some dairy cheese options, the Hungry Herbivore allows all customers to swap it for a vegan alternative.

“Many students who are gluten-free had expressed they didn’t get to use their meal plan swipes like everyone else, even with our robust Gluten Intolerant Options (GIO) program,” Liberty District Manager Duke Davis. “We heard the same from students who are vegan and vegetarian. It was a hard decision because many students loved the cheesesteak concept, but we felt a greater demand to provide more food options for students with dietary restrictions.”

Colleges Go Plant-Based

Sodexo currently provides food service accommodations for over 1,000 colleges and universities worldwide. With an increased demand for plant-based options, the food service giant aims to restructure its menus to cater to the growing plant-based population. This April, the company announced that it plans to increase plant-based meal offerings by 42 percent by 2025. Sodexo is partnering with the Humane Society of the United States to ensure that its new menu helps reduce its carbon footprint.

Working with colleges nationwide, Sodexo intends to cut its carbon emissions by 34 percent by 2025. The company found that 70 percent of its carbon footprint is associated with its animal-based food products. By introducing new plant-based offerings, the company hopes to shift away from its current meat-heavy menus across the United States.

Last August, Sodexo partnered with Israeli food tech company SavorEat to help commercialize its new plant-based vending robot. The tech company unveiled a vegan burger-serving robot last year, intending to launch the plant-based mobile vending machine at American colleges in 2022. Using 3-D printing technology, the company prepares burgers with plant-based ingredients.

School Systems Introduce Vegan Meal Programs

This May, Illinois Public Schools revealed a plan to serve vegan meals to all two million students. Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker signed a new bill into law, mandating plant-based school lunches are served statewide The new law will go into effect on August 1, 2023, ensuring that all students have the option to choose plant-based at their school's cafeterias.

Similarly, the New York City public school system launched its "Vegan Fridays" program, providing one million students with free plant-based meals. Aiming to teach kids how to eat healthier, the new plant-based program provides students access to vegan food that would otherwise not have access to it.

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