One in four college students wants a plant-based eatery on their college campus, according to a food industry survey. Now, students at San Diego State have one with the April opening of an all-vegan restaurant franchise.
Plant Power Fast Food serves the local community a plant-based protein diet instead of an animal-based protein diet. Inside the restaurant, students can grab a quick bite made from a proprietary blend of vegetables or an almond milk shake.
A student at SDSU with a passion for influencing others to eat healthier and avoid animal products is Voice for Veg President, Steve Soto. He advocated for the opening of a plant-based eatery on campus with his student organization.
“It’s not only about outreach, it’s about creating an institutional change that is everlasting,” Soto said. “If you want to be a student leader and influence someone on campus to care about farm-animal advocacy or sustainable agriculture, you can soon walk them over to Plant Power.”
Voice for Veg is a political organization at SDSU, founded in 2017. It is recognized as a political organization due to their advocacy for farm animal welfare and agricultural subsidies that are dependent on policy.
Soto noticed that fellow students were interested in healthy eating. He started an organization to advocate for a plant-based diet, anti-animal cruelty, and sustainability. The organization meets with members of the Humane League on a regular basis.
SDSU Dining Services Director, Paul Melchior, worked closely with Voice for Veg and Plant Power owners for the implementation of the restaurant on campus. Melchior believes that the choice of campus eateries should be a conversation with the students, and he reviews student feedback through surveys.
According to Melchior, some have requested a vegan destination in past surveys.
“We do a lot based on student ideas such as going Styrofoam free 12 years ago, and many other sustainable things,” Melchior said. “Plant Power was on our radar, just like Anthem Vegan who sells at our Farmer’s Markets, and it’s nice to acknowledge that students want it.”
Melchior mentioned that Plant Power Fast Food will join the other 45 restaurant options on the meal-plan for students. Another upcoming restaurant set to open this year that will tend to students’ dietary needs is Halal Shack, a Mediterranean restaurant.
“We have never had a vegan destination, but our philosophy is to include vegan and vegetarian items in every location on campus” Melchior said. “This is going to satisfy students dietary needs and Plant Power will appeal to a wide audience.”
Incoming 2019-2020 San Diego State Associated Students Sustainability Commission Representative, Kelly Renton, thinks that Plant Power will help consumers make the connection that food can taste great while simultaneously being great for the environment.
“Plant Power promotes a plant-based lifestyle, which is the most sustainable and environmentally-considerate diet one can follow,” Renton said. “This restaurant will provide a variety of more inclusive options for all students, and is very different from the current options available.”
The eatery at 5842 Hardy Ave. produces similar products to other fast food restaurants: burgers, chicken tenders, sandwiches, fries, and shakes. However, they offer cruelty-free, plant-based versions that move sustainability efforts in a positive direction (or that positively impact sustainability efforts), according to Ravi Parikh, owner of the Plant Power franchise at SDSU.
“Plant Power represents a new paradigm shift across the entire food supply chain,” Parikh said. “I view it as a complete game-changer to the entire fast food industry. If we can move the needle a little bit and get people interested in what we offer, we will make an impact culturally, climate-wise, and personal health-wise.”
He chose SDSU as a location for this restaurant because of the entrepreneurial spirit he felt on the campus.
“Students represent the future,” Parikh said. “They represent everything that is possible. Students will move forward creating policy in different companies and organizations, and bring their influential ideas and thoughts to the table.”
Plant Power currently has two locations in San Diego, and another in Redlands, Calif. Another location in Long Beach is underway.
This report was a collaboration between NBC 7 and the SDSU School of Journalism and Media Studies.