The Collegian
Sunday, June 26, 2022

ETC offers more organic and vegan-friendly food options

The University of Richmond's Everything Convenience store, or ETC, has just gotten a lot more convenient for both organic food lovers and vegans.

ETC, the on-campus market, has expanded its shelf items to include more foods that do not have meat or dairy and also more that do not contain any additives or chemicals.

Although the store has been open for more than two years, it was not until this year that Dining Services really started diversifying the food options at ETC. It has become more than a place to get quick snacks and microwavable meals, like the Dean's Den in Whitehurst is.

"They're treating it like a real grocery store now," Maya Vincelli, manager of ETC and 8:15 at Boatwright, said when speaking about students' reactions to the changes at the market.

While the purchasing department is in charge of ordering these new items, Vincelli does all of the product scouting.

"It's a hobby of mine because I've come from food service and really have a passion for organic and vegan foods," she said. "I mostly just like really good quality and interesting food."

Vincelli credits many of her finds to her very vocal employees and the comments Richmond students leave in the suggestion box. At the end of each week, she compiles a list of requests and then researches to find out which suggested items are feasible.

Since Vincelli has diversified the stock of food at ETC, the store has managed to do well in terms of customer sales despite the bad economy. By listening to the student concerns, she said there was no mystery as to what they were going to like and what they were not.

"I definitely take the request box seriously," she said.

If she thinks it would be possible for her to sell the food, she contacts the person who left the comment and asks what he or she likes about it and where it can be found.

"This was definitely something we always intended for the store," Vincelli said, "but we had trouble finding vendors who had the products I wanted to sell. We searched around though and tried some new companies until we found what worked."

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Once a food product is ordered, it goes on a two-week trial period, during which students can sample the items. If it sells well it becomes a permanent item, sometimes replacing others that don't sell as much.

With this process, ETC's motto of "Something new every week," holds true. Recently, Vincelli decided to feature a trial of organic pancakes made with Batter Blaster, which is essentially pancake mix in an aerosol can.

"The last edible thing I saw in a spray can was Easy Cheese," Vincelli said, laughing. "But they're organic, they're in a spray can, and you can easily make just one at a time."

Other new items she has brought to ETC include Amy's organic tofu bowls and Annie Chun's organic and low-fat noodle bowls, both of which have been a big hit with students looking for a quick meal beyond Ramen noodles and Easy Mac.

"Even people who live in the dorms are making things in the microwave and have reconsidered its use," Vincelli said.

She said these particular foods have come into use when Carolyn Powell, the university's nutritionist, needed to pull items from ETC to fulfill the allergy needs of students who can't eat everything at the dining hall.

"We have an updated list of all the items for students," Vincelli said. "I think that students now are different than they were a year ago and are very conscious of what they are putting in their body. I think they are thinking of those foods as not just an option, but a healthier option."

Peta2.com, the youth site for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, has also taken notice of Richmond students' responses to vegan options, putting the University of Richmond on its bracket for the 2008 "Most Vegetarian-Friendly College" Contest. Although Richmond lost in the first round to the ultimate winner, American University, the Web site mentions some tasty and simple vegetarian options the school offers, asking, "How did we ever miss this place?"

Powell, however, stressed that just because a food is organic or vegetarian, does not mean it's healthy for you. She said there were still plenty of foods in ETC that provide a low-fat, healthy meal - vegetarian or not.

Sophomore Liz McAvoy, who was raised a vegetarian by her parents, has yet to try out the new options available to her at ETC but is eager to.

"When I visited Richmond, the dining hall seemed like it was amazing," she said, since she considered her vegetarian eating habits when looking at colleges. "It seemed like the school had a lot of options."

McAvoy did say there were campus eateries where she felt her options were limited, however, especially Tyler's Grill, where most of the food requires minimal preparation. Although there is never much for her there besides bagels, salads and veggie burgers, she understands that vegetarian food is a little more complicated to cook.

Even though McAvoy sometimes relies on cereals and vegetables to keep up her protein levels, she credits being a vegetarian with preventing her from becoming a picky eater, because she doesn't always have a lot of choices. It wasn't until the past few years that she appreciated this.

Powell, who helps between 50 and 100 students meet their nutritional goals each year, including those like McAvoy, recommends a great 500-calorie meal option at ETC. The low calorie meal consists of organic Tuscan white bean and vegetable soup paired with Greek yogurt and apple dippers.

"When I focus on ordering quality stuff, it just so happens that a lot of it is vegan, organic or kosher," Vincelli said. "When you're eating it, you don't think that it's organic or tofu, it just tastes good and that's all I'm into."

Other plans the university has to expand its healthier food options include the creation of a cafe in the soon-to-be Carole Weinstein International Center, which they have asked Vincelli to manage as well. Vincelli described the ideas for the cafe as a combination of 8:15 and ETC, with freshly prepared organic food.

Until then, Vincelli says ETC will continue to expand its lines of organic and vegan food items. She encouraged students to be vocal about what they want or need.

"Keep the suggestions coming," she said, "It makes my job dynamic."

Contact staff writer Allie Artur at allie.artur@richmond.edu

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