The Lack of Vegan Options at Hunterdon Central


Students at Hunterdon Central typically spend at least 35-40 hours per week in school, if not more for sports or extracurricular activities. That’s as much as a full time job. Naturally, these students will be required to eat school food at one point or another.


Our school cafeterias aren’t known for their variety or for having healthy options. That being said, those who follow a plant-based diet have an even harder time finding food than the rest of the student population.


Students at HCRHS may be vegan or follow a plant-based diet for a variety of reasons. Plant-based foods use less resources, are better for our environment, and reduce animal suffering. They bring numerous benefits over diets heavy in meat and other animal products.


According to the Rush University System for Health, plant-based diets have a variety of health benefits. “Research has shown that a vegan diet can help do the following: promote weight loss, reduce your risk of heart disease by lowering cholesterol levels, lower your chances of getting certain types of cancer, [and] manage diabetes by lowering A1C levels.”


Even if a student isn’t specifically vegan or vegetarian, they may still want to improve their health by eating more plant foods. Additionally, many students may be lactose-intolerant or be unable to digest other animal products, which is another reason someone might eat a plant-based diet.


Currently, the school cafeteria offers only select plant-based lunch options, which include “vegan nuggets” (either falafel or faux chicken nuggets) and a “vegetarian burger”. The “vegan nuggets” typically come with fries while the burger is served on its own. It’s unclear as to whether the “vegetarian burger” is vegan or just vegetarian, which can be confusing for students and lead to even fewer available options.


Even the salads at Hunterdon Central usually contain either meat or cheese. Breakfast options for vegans are limited to a bagel and a few different types of fruit. 


Unlike the rotating hot lunch options that the rest of students have access to, vegans are forced to choose from the same 2 options every day, 180 days of the year. The lack of variety is unfair to students who follow a plant-based or vegan diet or who cannot eat many of the animal-based foods found in the cafeteria.


To compensate, students might decide to bring their own lunches to school. However, many don’t have this option. According to US News, 11% of the student population at HCRHS relies on either the free or reduced price lunch programs.


Students who rely on free or reduced price food, including both breakfast and lunches, often don’t have the financial means to bring their own lunch from home. This means that vegan and vegetarian students are forced to put their entire lifestyle aside at school, or subsist on bagels and the same two unhealthy options every day. 


Even for students who pay for full priced lunches, eating vegan can be inaccessible since the “vegetarian entrees” cost a dollar more than all the other entrees in the cafetera. This is unfair to so many who need or want to purchase school lunches, but can’t.


Hunterdon Central’s cafeteria is struggling to provide for its students. It’s clear that both the school administration and the food services staff need to do more to increase vegan options in the cafeteria, or students will continue to suffer.