The COG. Whether this is your first year on campus or last semester, the COG has undoubtedly been part of your Gonzaga experience. Some students have strong opinions about it, like the cult- following around COG salmon. Other students simply consider it another meal.
For many Zags on campus, however, eating at the COG poses a challenge. With Zagriculture as the only true vegan option and many of the meals at COG being meat-focused, vegetarian and vegan students often find themselves wondering what they can eat.
My freshman year at GU, I was vegetarian, and I remember being unsure as how to navigate the dining options on campus. While excited about Zagriculture’s entirely vegan options, I was disappointed in the lack of other vegan or vegetarian choices in the COG. I soon realized many other students felt the same way. Whether their dietary restrictions were a result of their religion or just personal choice, for many, the COG fell short of expectations.
The COG does have some options for students with dietary restrictions, such as the vegan dairy alternative fridge by Spike’s or the gluten-free section at Zagriculture.
The fact the COG offers these to students is wonderful, but I think they could be doing more to accommodate various food preferences.
Junior Soup Hammad is Muslim and formerly pescatarian, meaning the only meat he ate was fish. He remembers his freshman year on campus being difficult as he tried to find food that fell within his dietary boundaries. As a Muslim, Hammad cannot eat pork, or any food prepared on the same surface as pork. While this can limit one’s options, it should be a feasible request. Hammad tells a different story.
“I used to try and ask [the employees] at 360 to make it on a separate grill,” he said. “But after a while, you get tired of the annoyed looks they give you, and feel bad for advocating for yourself.”
Hammad said at the lunchtime sub station, employees don’t change their gloves between sandwiches, making this yet another place Hammad and others with similar food limitations cannot consider.
The meat-heavy focus at the COG makes it challenging for Jewish students as well. They cannot eat pork, meat or dairy dishes that have been prepared on the same surface.
Another frustration among Hammad and others is the lack of signage or description for each food.
“It’s frustrating to potentially waste a swipe or $11,” he said. “Knowing what’s in it would help a lot because I would know if I could eat it or not.”
Hammad said better descriptions of COG meals would also lead to less waste, as students would know ahead of time if they were able to choose that meal.
Students with nonreligious dietary restrictions struggle to find food to eat at the COG as well. Hammad said in addition to being Muslim, challenges existed as a pescatarian.
This presented an even larger dining challenge, and he settled on Zagriculture as the only “safe” option.
Michele Ortiz, a junior math and economics major, has been vegetarian for three years and said there are few options for other vegetarians and students with specific food preferences similar to hers.
Like Hammad, she said Zagriculture was the only guaranteed place she could eat. As a junior, she doesn’t eat at the COG often, but remembered how tricky it was her first two years on campus with a mandatory meal plan. Ortiz said the COG provides multiple vegetarian options in theory, yet said they could be doing more.
“It’s not too difficult to make a dish vegetarian,” she said. “[The COG] would make students feel as though they care more about providing options for everyone.”
The bulk of the COG’s dishes contain some sort of meat, which is unnecessary. So many students are making a conscious shift toward a plant-based diet, both for environmental reasons and to promote sustainability.
A survey administered by PETA in 2017 said the number of students following a vegetarian diet has increased by over 50% in the last 10 years.
Part of GU's mission statement encourages sustainability and care for the planet. With so much research coming to light about the impacts of the meat and dairy industry, it's logical for students to assume GU can make strides toward altering its COG menu.
Ortiz said the dining options offered at COG clash with the sustainability aspect of the university's mission statement, and GU should be doing more to uphold those standards.
“The level of meat served at COG is not necessary,” Ortiz said. “Plant-based diets are better for your body and the environment. I understand that they need to have some meat-based options, but they could definitely cut back on the amount.”
Ortiz and Hammad agreed the COG could expand options to meet student’s various needs — more than a small vegan and dairy alternative fridge.
“The COG makes a point to make sure students feel like they are the priority,” Ortiz said. “But I’m not sure how much they really listen to students.”
Ortiz said the COG has many students to feed, and, overall, accommodates the majority. But there are changes that could be made in its food preparation and menu that would make the world of a difference to students with dietary restrictions.