As the first mainstream university to offer an all-vegan cafeteria, the University of North Texas (UNT) may prove that the nationwide push for healthy eating has resonated in places where meat has been viewed as an essential staple.

Ryan Huling, manager of college campaigns for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), told Inside Higher Ed that the move reflects a growing demand for healthy eating choices among college students.

“This is certainly the latest example of a growing trend of schools offering a wide variety of vegan samples,” he said, “responding to overwhelming student demand for meatless meals.”

In a 2004 survey, food service provider Aramark found that a quarter of college students wanted vegan options on their campus. The company told Inside Higher Ed that since 2006, vegan and vegetarian offerings in their cafeterias have increased nearly 15 percent.

“In recent years, we have seen a trend of vegan, vegetarian, calorie-conscious, fat-conscious, whole grain, gluten-free and locally sourced food requests,” Aramark said.

UNT received complaints from students who wanted healthier food, and vegetarians who felt there were no options for them. Officials for the university said they realized they had to act on their student’s requests.

“We wanted to step outside the box a little bit,” said Ken Botts, director of special projects for Dining Services, “and take it to that next level.”

The university has already implemented other environmentally-friendly initiatives to complement their student’s healthy eating lifestyle. There are no trays, and UNT has cut down on excessive ground shipments.

So far, UNT has won praise from animal welfare advocates, including PETA who gave the university the “compassionate campus award.”