UCSC gets top spot in nationwide "vegan schools" contest

UC Santa Cruz has come in first place in a heated, five-week contest to determine the “#1 vegan friendly college in the nation.”

The contest, sponsored by People For the Ethical Treatment of Animals’ young adult division, known as PETA2, determines the "top-rated vegan school" in the United States.

The official website for the contest gave a special shout-out to UCSC's "popular Meatless Mondays program—in which a different dining hall goes completely vegetarian each week." The site called the program a model for other schools across the United States. "Dishes such as stuffed portobello ratatouille, vegan Mexican tofu benedicts, vegan taquitos, and sweet-and-sour seitan."

The website mentioned that these food items get "big applause from students." 

On Monday, dining staff received the news that UCSC had beaten out 31 other schools for this food-related honor. The winner of the contest is determined by responses on Facebook as well as votes sent in directly to PETA.

For the past week, the nation’s top two contenders were UCSC and the University of Florida, pitting the Banana Slug against the fierce Alligator. The Slugs prevailed.

“We are really excited about this,” said Candy Berlin, program coordinator for UCSC Dining. “We want to extend that celebratory feeling for a while.”

This is the first year UCSC used social media to its advantage in the contest.

“I think that played a big role,” Berlin said. “It just made it really easy and convenient for people to ‘like’ us.”

News of the outcome spread quickly across the campus. The Santa Cruz Sentinel published a follow-up story, and students have been talking about the results throughout the campus.

“A lot of people recognize the campus for sustainability,” Berlin said. “That is our niche, and we are very good at it, not just in dining but in academics and the beauty of the campus itself. This just supports and validates what we kind of know already. It’s a vote of confidence.”

This is not the first time UCSC has done well in the contest; in 2009 it made the top five.

Berlin said that the participation in the contest does not necessarily mean that Dining supports all aspects of PETA or endorses PETA; instead, Berlin described it as a way to increase awareness of UCSC’s sustainability-minded and environmentally friendly approach to food sourcing and dining options.

This is merely the latest on a long list for sustainability related recognitions for UCSC, which has been receiving awards for "green" building practices and recently came in at seventh place in the Sierra Club's "cool schools" list of green-minded colleges and universities in America.