Conscious Eats is a win for our health, environment, and bank accounts
The vegan $5 lunch gazebo’s line of smiley volunteers, who eagerly scoop steaming curry into the outstretched tupperware of hungry students, is an iconic landmark on campus. For many alumni, the fragrant and hearty lunches are also a fond core memory of their university days.
However, back in May last year, we noticed that on some weekdays, the usually bustling Barracks Lawn, where the vegan lunch gazebo often occupied, was eerily vacant.
A quick social media stalk confirmed our suspicions that something was up. On The Sustainability Network’s Facebook, the club had announced that they had been requested by the University to reduce their operating schedule. After seeing the post, Craccum was determined to flex our investigative muscles and dig further—a testament of our dedication not so much to producing quality journalism, but rather to protecting the elite combo that is tomato chickpea curry and crispy poppadoms.
After chatting with Kalindi Fletcher, the president of Veda Club, the other organisation behind the vegan lunch initiative, we published an article titled “Where’s my $5 Vegan Lunch?” The news piece showcased the clubs’ perspectives on the rollback of their initiative by the University, an effort to “alleviate pressure on other campus food vendors”.
In the following issue, we published another news piece detailing the University’s official response. In a nutshell, the University said that their request for vegan lunches to be served only two days per week was because student club activities needed to be balanced with consideration for other food outlets on campus. Concluding its response was the recommendation that students should visit Munchy Mart for its “wide range of food types at terrific prices,” and Tart Bakery for plant-based options.
Let’s just say that the University’s statement didn’t sit well with many students. Aside from the flurry of sad and angry reacts that flooded Craccum’s Facebook, several students criticised the University’s response and advice.
“I might be inclined to give the on-campus food outlets my money if they didn’t require three times as much for any reasonable amount of food. Shit is EXPENSIVE,” commented one student.
Another student felt that the rollback of the vegan lunches was unethical as they perceived that the University was “intentionally limiting available food options that are healthier and accommodate different dietary requirements.”
“The food options around campus are terrible—the food is too pricey and is usually high in fat, salt, and sugar, and honestly looks gross. These cheaper vegan meals can help incentivise people to eat healthier, and it seems like people seem to prefer these meals over the other food options. So thanks UoA. It seems like you’re prioritising the profits of small businesses over the health and well-being of students.”
Fortunately, there is a happy and wholesome ending to this vegan lunch saga: the official opening of Conscious Eats, a fully-vegan, permanent food kiosk on campus, brought to you by the same team that served up the familiar meals we all know and love.
While the crew behind the vegan lunches had been hoping to open their own permanent store on campus for some years, Kalindi said that Craccum’s article gave the club a huge push in supporting making their dream a reality.
“We received a huge response from students, both in-person and all over social media, especially on UoA: Meaningful Confessions. The University’s retail team actually saw the responses from students and reached out to talk with us. Long story short, the catering team behind the lunches have banded together and opened Conscious Eats.”
Located in the Quad, the kiosk is open Monday to Friday from 10 am to 5 pm, serving up vegan food that is nutritious, tasty, environmentally-friendly, and suitable for student budgets.
“That’s the reasoning for our name ‘Conscious Eats’. We are conscious of what we’re putting into our bodies, conscious of our impact on the Earth and conscious of student affordability,” explained Kalindi.
During the first week of Conscious Eats’ opening, the kiosk has been met with an “impressive” response from students.
Conscious Eats chef, KG, said that they had initially anticipated and prepared to cater for 100 people, However, on the first day that classes resumed, he estimates that his team cooked for over 200 people.
“Students seem to have responded very positively to what we have on offer.”
Staying true to the spirit of the original vegan lunches, KG is committed to providing students with a pocket-friendly meal package—complete with fresh vegetables, proteins, tasters, and a dessert. Having previously cooked for The Yoga Loft for a number of years as a hobby, he is passionate about making people happy with food.
“The centre of my life is about simple and healthy living, and giving that to other people as much as possible.”
With the craziness of Conscious Eats’ opening, he said that there were times students may have had to wait for their meal as the team worked hard to quickly replenish their offerings.
“Everything we offer is cooked fresh. It is an extra endeavour from us, but we’re happy to do that because we want students to get the best.”
Looking ahead, KG hopes to expand Conscious Eats’ offerings for students, while still taking things nice and slow as “we just want to get the basics right.”
“It’s a work in progress for us. But we’re all excited and passionate about giving the best to students and helping them realise that there is an alternative.”
Although Conscious Eats is no longer a club activity, the kiosk remains a non-profit organisation that is formed from the community, for the community. Kalindi said that any leftover profits the food kiosk makes will be used to support and sponsor The Sustainability Network’s club events, giving right back to the student community.
“We also just want to send a huge thank you to all the students that have supported us over the years. Conscious Eats wouldn’t be here without you all!”