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Why Oatly Frozen Yogurt Is Not Enough

By Varya Lyapneva, Contributing Opinion Writer
Varya Lyapneva ’26, a Crimson Editorial comper, is a History of Art and Architecture concentrator in Winthrop House.

If you’ve recently treated yourself to frozen yogurt in a dining hall, you might have noticed that it tastes a bit different than usual. But don’t be scared — this is good news. Harvard University Dining Services has finally complied with the requests of vegans on campus to provide us (if I may speak on behalf of vegans) with the dessert option of oat milk frozen yogurt.

This change is a step in the right direction, but it’s far from enough. Our University must do more to properly accommodate the vegan diet — and even promote it.

First, observing a vegan diet is not a quirk or flippant choice. Even though a vegan diet can have a positive health impact, most vegans don’t opt out of the daily joy of indulgent meals for selfish reasons. Instead, veganism is an intentional effort to minimize the suffering of sentient beings and recognize their rights. Going vegan also decreases carbon emissions: According to one 2018 study, it may even be the single most impactful way an individual can do so.

Harvard University Dining Services seems hardly beloved by students; some have observed that complaints about food quality, variety, and taste are commonplace. For most, however, an underwhelming lunch can be supplemented by catered campus and club events or Cafe Gato Rojo sandwiches and pastries.

Now put yourself in the shoes of a vegan. Get ready to lose various free food events, ice cream trucks, study break snacks, nutritious breakfasts, Sunday sundaes, and the rare delicatesses of HUDS special meals (think a chocolate fountain or personalized omelets).

Want a savory brain break? You better hope for hummus, or deal with PB&J’s. Sunday brunches? Enjoy tater tots while your friends eat pancakes, two types of eggs, and three different meat options. Hungry between lunch and dinner? Sorry, but get ready for limited vegan options at the campus cafes.

I’ve dealt with these challenges personally and often ask dining hall staff about vegan offerings. While HUDS workers are usually enthusiastic in their search, I commonly come away with the same empty stomach, along with the sense that I was an unnecessary burden.

It’s certainly possible to be vegan on campus – it’s just not a lot of fun.

Unfortunately, the vegan population on campus is not well organized. There exists a Plant Futures chapter at Harvard, but it is not officially recognized by the Harvard Undergraduate Association. Nor does there seem to be an accurate accounting of the number of vegans on campus. Ultimately, though, the blame for the poor range and quality of on-campus vegan food options lies with the University.

I am not demanding that every dining hall becomes fully plant-based overnight (although, I would not complain if that did happen), nor am I asking for subpar vegan alternatives to current HUDS fare. Rather, I’d like to make it clear that delicious and vegan are not mutually exclusive. Our University should put more effort into plant-based food, in order to make the stigmatized yet undoubtedly socially beneficial vegan lifestyle appealing.

Harvard has already fallen behind other universities in this regard. I spent the summer studying at the Freie Universität Berlin, where I learned what it means to be truly satisfied by vegan options like individually cooked dishes, several meat substitutes, non-dairy sauces, and even desserts.

As of 2021, 34 dining spaces across four universities in Berlin are already mostly meatless. Freie Universität Berlin has both fully vegetarian and fully vegan dining halls. Further, Cardiff University in the United Kingdom is working to reduce half of its meat and dairy options by the end of the year. Similarly, at Stanford University, menus are typically over half vegan and four-fifths vegetarian.

For now, these standards might sound like unrealistic objectives, but they are real and could serve as a guide for our University.

Inclusive dining hall reforms can start off small. A simple step that Harvard can emulate from German universities is indicating the carbon dioxide impact of every meal option. Even if HUDS offerings aren’t 50 percent vegan tomorrow, just adding vegan cream cheese would be nice.

In the long run, I hope for a Harvard where anyone considering a vegan diet feels encouraged and welcome to do so. If our University’s mission is to educate the “citizen-leaders” of society, perhaps it should help its alumni lead by the composition of their character and also their plates.

Varya Lyapneva ’26, a Crimson Editorial comper, is a History of Art and Architecture concentrator in Winthrop House.

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