DefaultVeg expands operations, results in passed ASG resolution toward sustainable catering


Daily file photo by Rebecca Shaid

Foster-Walker Complex Dining Hall. The dining hall will partake in plant-based initiatives Wednesday.

Iris Swarthout, Senior Staffer

As a member of a majority-vegan family, SESP sophomore Lauren Walcott frequently ate plant-based meals before arriving on campus. But after moving in, she said eating sustainably proved difficult because meal exchanges did not include vegan alternatives and dining halls served plant-based foods inconsistently.

“I wasn’t sure how to replicate (veganism) on campus,” Walcott said. “I wanted to challenge myself to eat less animal-based products.”

In pursuit of that goal, Walcott joined DefaultVeg — an international initiative dedicated to making plant-based food the default. Northwestern’s chapter, established in spring 2020 by Campus Ambassador and third-year Ph.D. student in technology and social behavior Gustavo Umbelino, is currently advocating for sustainable meals across campus. Organizations like the Asian American Studies Program and NU Dining are following suit, Communication sophomore Jordan Muhammad said.

Muhammad, a lead organizer for DefaultVeg, said the initiative uses a public document to point campus organizations toward Evanston caterers with plant-based options.

“(The document) profiles … restaurants that you can order from and suggests (meals) you would order that would be DefaultVeg,” Muhammad said. “We also provide how many vegan options (each restaurant) has, like do they have both meat and animal products.”

The overarching goal, Muhammad added, is to implement sustainable yet inclusive dining options across campus. This means plant-based options are made available, but no one is forced to change their lifestyle completely, ki said. 

DefaultVeg started gaining ground fall 2021 when Muhammad, a member of Fossil Free NU, pitched the initative to a few individuals in ki Community Engagement 195 class. Weinberg freshman Anna Dellit, a lead organizer of DefaultVeg, joined Muhammad and expanded the initiative.

For Dellit, the Civic Engagement Certificate was part of her initiative to take more SESP classes. The program prompted students to join various activism initiatives at the beginning of Winter Quarter, one of them being DefaultVeg.

“DefaultVeg was really interesting because it seemed very tangible and actions we could do on campus to make a difference,” Dellit said. “Sustainability is important to me, but I never thought about food as inclusive and I wanted to learn more. I was able to do so with DefaultVeg.”

Associated Student Government passed acting legislation — legislation impacting only ASG itself — last quarter to pledge DefaultVeg. Dellit said pledging means an organization does not have to entirely change what it is already doing in an effort toward sustainable eating.

ASG’s resolution includes enactments like requiring at least 70% plant-based servings on group orders, excluding pizza, opting into ordering animal-based products at events with preselected food and having animal-based products at buffet-style events be presented last, among others.

Muhammad said ASG’s recent pledge toward DefaultVeg is history in the making. NU’s student government is the first in the U.S. to pass DefaultVeg legislation. Ilana Braverman, the director of communications and outreach at Better Food Foundation — one of the three organizations directing the initiative — is willing to spread the word.

“It happened quickly enough because NYU actually passed the DefaultVeg policy a week after we did, so we were the first,” Muhammad said. “(Braverman) is sharing that with other student governments around the country as legislation they can also adopt, which was really cool.”

DefaultVeg is looking to reach out to more organizations and students on campus in hopes of increasing its presence, Muhammad said. Ki added a pledge is currently going around to show organizations like Student Enrichment Services that the initiative is well supported.

For Muhammad, this experience has opened up places of growth in terms of group work. Ki said working on this campaign collaboratively and bringing people up has been a learning process.

“We’re just trying to balance impact and planning for longevity,” Muhammad said. “We’re trying … to make sure this effort is going to last knowing that we’re not going to be able to win every single … time.”

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Twitter: @swarthout_iris

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