By Mahrukh Murad
Dev Kumar ‘23, a rising junior at SDSB and a practicing Hindu, is a lacto-vegetarian* with a knack for staying cautiously optimistic. He shares, “When I moved to LUMS, I realised the cons of being vegetarian in Pakistan.” He quickly experienced his usual variety of vegetarian food options abundantly available in his hometown, Karachi, being swapped for daal and sabzi at PDC.
According to Dev, “My main ethos of being a vegetarian is to be non-violent towards nature and mother earth. [In my religion] there is a concept of not fighting anyone for your own sake. Interestingly, the first misconception that I heard from my friends [about being vegetarian] is that ‘it’s in your religion’ and ‘you are bound to eat vegetarian food’. However, this is a myth. There is no restriction on eating meat in Hinduism. Although, in all the five [sacred] books, it isn’t forbidden to eat meat, it is just recommended to have a diet that does not hurt anybody.”
Dev explains that a gunn is a positive or negative characteristic of an individual. He says, “The three main characteristics are: Satvik (mode of goodness and purity), Rajsik (mode of passion, ignorance, ego, and anger) and Tapsik (mode of laziness). By following a non-violent conduct towards nature you follow the Satvik path of goodness and morality.”
On campus, Dev found it increasingly difficult to stick to his vegetarian diet. He says, “The first semester was very difficult. The [general] student body had five to six eateries available to them including Jammin, Juice Zone, Zakir Tikka etc. I only had one option: PDC. They offered daal, rice, and vegetables. However, the options at PDC were very limited. Eating daal everyday is a torture!”
He struggled with breakfast since he is not a tea lover nor does he eat eggs so he rarely had breakfast. Thus, morning classes were difficult. The only option he had was to grab a cup of milk and plain cake. With a laugh he shares, “On Thursday, aloo parathas were served in PDC. It was my favourite day!”
However, not having a good breakfast wasn’t the only trouble he had. “If I got late for dinner at PDC, they mixed daal with another chicken or beef dish, and I was served daal mixed with chicken. This was very upsetting but I became used to it.”
Speaking further about his experience, he says, “I was served chicken in my daal multiple times. When I posted [on LDF] I got a really good response. I got a lot of support from the Student Council. They talked to PDC’s manager regarding this. I knew PDC’s manager and he used to take extra care of me. He usually asked me if I had any problem [with the food]. But I didn’t feel comfortable telling him, so I stayed quiet.”
Yet, intermixing of vegetarian food with non-vegetarian dishes is not a campus-specific problem. Rather, in Dev’s experience while ordering from Foodpanda, he faced a similar problem. He shares, “There were many instances where I ordered a pure-vegetarian dish but when I received it, there were problems. Day in and day out I had problems. Therefore, I started to cook for myself but it’s very difficult to cook in the hostel as it is very time consuming. So, eventually had to drop this idea”.
Moreover for Dev, “[It was] very difficult to survive Ramadan in previous semesters. Even though I was not fasting I had to go for sehri since there wasn’t any breakfast available at PDC. The snack menu available only had non-vegetarian options. I complained about this and they introduced one vegetarian option after fifteen days. Those fifteen days were very difficult for me. I used to go to Superstore and get noodles, biscuits and other snacks to survive the day.”
He further comments, “Most of the people I have met at LUMS have been very supportive but some people have joked about my vegetarian lifestyle. Whenever this happened I tried to engage them in a constructive argument since I knew their intention wasn’t to hurt me. The curiosity sometimes made me upset but I always tried to explain my rationale to them. Many times people said to me, ‘try tou karo yaar’ and pushed me to try non-vegetarian dishes.”
His voice tinges with cautious optimism as he says, “I completely understand that there are very few Hindus in the student body and it’s difficult to make major changes for a few students. Nonetheless, I would appreciate if PDC improved their food quality and introduced more vegetarian options in their menu.” He suggests removing generally disliked dishes and replacing them with better ones. “I think the quality of daal should also be improved!”
*Vegetarianism is the practice of abstaining from the consumption of meat
* Lacto-vegetarian: people who consume dairy products but not eggs.
Farhana Imran ‘22* began her journey as a pescatarian when she was diagnosed with hormonal problems and her doctor recommended cutting out meat from her diet. In her experience, “I used to order a lot from places outside of campus or cook myself since on-campus [pescatarian-friendly] options are very limited.”
Speaking about the negligence of workers while serving people with alternate dietary preferences she comments, “That is a big issue [being served meat in vegetarian meals] and has happened multiple times. They think that opting for vegetarian options is only a matter of not wanting to eat meat/chicken on a certain day. They don’t understand that this is a permanent commitment [to abstain from meat]. This one time, I had ordered a plain cheese omelet from Jammin, but when I started eating, it had [chunks of] sausage in it. I can’t explain the feeling but if you don’t eat meat then [accidentally eating it] is very weird and disturbing. It ruins your appetite. Whenever I order a meal, I have to double or triple check if they’ve gotten my correct order. It’s stressful every time I have to get food on campus.”
In her opinion, “The quality of PDC’s vegetarian options is really bad. I’ve found raw potatoes in the sabzi and generally the food is tasteless. There is much more focus on chicken dishes than vegetable dishes.” She adds, “Sometimes, the only vegetarian options, even in restaurants in Lahore, are aloo sabzi and daal. I got sick of eating daal all the time!” In her experience, Jade Cafe and Coco Cubano are the only good restaurants for vegetarians and pescatarians.
Commenting on the support her friends lend her she says, “I have been very lucky in this regard. My friends have been very supportive and whenever we had to go out to eat, we would always check the menu beforehand to see if the restaurant had something [that I could eat].”However, she adds, “There is still a lack of awareness. This one time my friends and I went to a society dinner and the EC members ordering for us didn’t ask if anyone had any eating restrictions. Being a freshman, I felt scared telling them that I couldn’t eat meat. My friend, who was a member of the society, went up to the EC members and asked them to order a vegetarian dish. Their first reaction was to ask me if I’m Hindu. That shouldn’t be a question if someone wants to get vegetarian food. People also ask, ‘Pait kaisay bharta hai?’ and especially during Ramadan they asked ‘How will you fast?”
She says, “Each time a form is circulated about food options, I give feedback about the limited options for pescatarians. We need more variety in our food options since eating the same food every day can get tiring. It would also help if workers serving food would be more vigilant to avoid accidentally serving chicken or meat in vegetarian dishes. Generally, I would like people to be more aware [regarding different dietary preferences].”
*Name has been changed to ensure anonymity
* Pescatarian: a person who does not eat meat but does eat fish.
Speaking to students who shared their struggles of being a student with special dietary preferences was eye-opening. In this regard, The LUMS Post reached out to the Chairs of the Food and Pricing Committee of the Student Council, Mah Gull and Zain Nadeem.
Mah Gull’s and Zain’s role revolves around maintaining food quality on campus. They share, “We are primarily responsible for looking at quality, quantity and pricing of food items at LUMS eateries. Our role mostly revolves around PDC but is not limited to that. We continuously look to bring [forth] new ventures. We also cater to complaints [of the student body regarding dining on campus] and regulate pricing at the LUMS Superstore”.
Shedding light on how vegetarian and vegan students are accommodated on campus they comment, “We don’t have an explicit policy regarding accommodating vegetarian and vegan students on campus. However, at each meal time, there are dishes that vegan and vegetarian students can eat”.
They remark, “We encourage the student body to reach out to raise any concerns or complaints they may have. We will forward your complaint to higher authorities. We are also open to any suggestions students have”. Additionally, they outline the process of reaching out to the both of them, “Students can email us* directly or address their emails to the student council. They can also file their complaint through the PDC complaint box. We are also in the process of developing the student council website which will have a food and pricing column that will feature a complaint portal as well”.
As a parting note, they share positive developments on-campus to be expected in future, “A few new food ventures will be available once Fall semester starts including a joint for Arabian sea food and Monal”.
People choose to opt-out of eating meat for many reasons: personal, religious, and health-related. Having a meal in peace, without worrying about pieces of meat showing up in your vegetarian dish, shouldn’t be an inaccessible dream for vegetarians and pescatarians who opt for on-campus dining. It is imperative that the LUMS community comes together to support its members who have dietary restrictions and cater to students with different dietary preferences.