Iowa City takes steps to be more vegan-friendly

While much of Iowa is hesitant to try meat alternatives, Iowa City has taken steps over the past few years to make itself a vegan-friendly community.


Katina Zentz

Photo Illustration by Katina Zentz

Gretchen Lenth, News Reporter

A recent Iowa Farm Bureau report shows that the state’s residents struggle to envision a future in which faux meat products are the norm — results that align with Iowa’s prominence in the agriculture sector.

According to a recent report by the Iowa Farm Bureau, 73 percent of Iowa grocery shoppers report they would not choose plant-based meat over real meat. 

University of Iowa junior Maya Dasmalchi, a five-year vegan and the vice president for Vegan Society UIowa, said these isolating attitudes are part of the reason her organization exists in the first place. 

“Our economy’s reliance on agriculture can make veganism seem alien to Iowa,” she said. “When I tell someone I’m vegan, the initial reaction for a lot of people is, ‘Oh, you must not support our farmers.’”

Originally from a military base in Okinawa, Japan, Dasmalchi feels Iowa hasn’t fostered the same sort of openness toward veganism compared to where she grew up. This was also true for Iowa City — at least at first. 

“I had so much trouble my freshman year,” she said. “There were mislabeled options in the dining halls, and there weren’t a lot of vegan snacks.” 

Despite these criticisms, she said things are changing for the better. Going into her sophomore year, vegan flex meals were introduced and the dining halls improved. 

“This year we’ve implemented a separate icon that specifically relates to the ‘may contain’ option,” University Dining Director Jill Irvin said. “We can separate things that are vegan but may contain [animal products], and it clearly spells it out.”

Despite increased availability, many people raised outside of veganism are hesitant to try the new food products on the market, Irvin said in an email to The Daily Iowan. This is because of a lasting idea of how past alternatives tasted — not very much like meat. 

However, she said in her email, modern science has progressed to the point where faux meat products are able to imitate the flavor of the real thing for those who desire that flavor.

Many have decided to go vegan with these changes. For UI student Will Laverman, the decision wasn’t obvious right away. 

“It was easy to be apathetic, because no one else really thought about it,” he said.  

Through conversations with his grandmother regarding the health, social, and environmental benefits of veganism, he said he believes he had no way to justify any other choice and made the switch in November 2018. 

Despite his resolute stance, Laverman said his new lifestyle has led to some uncomfortable situations.

“Two of my roommates are [vegan], but one isn’t,” Laverman said. “It’s kind of unfortunate to see meat in the fridge when I know everything that had to happen to the animal to get that product.” 

Coming from a family of farmers, Laverman said he anxiously awaits this year’s Thanksgiving. 

While Laverman said he believes Iowa City itself is far removed from an agricultural lifestyle, Iowa at large has yet to change its tune. 

“It’s hard to look at your habits and make changes in your own life,” Dalsmachi said. “It’s also hard to take responsibility for your actions that aren’t so great for the environment.”