AN ON-CAMPUS VEGAN/VEGETARIAN restaurant where people come together to eat healthy meals, learn about the effects of their food choices and be a part of a community that cares about what they eat: This was his vision. What he hadn’t visualized was his name on the side of the building.
That’s why, when Marty Perlmutter first heard that Norman and Gerry Sue Arnold and Anita Zucker had not only raised $1 million for the College’s new vegan/vegetarian dining facility, but also named it in his honor, he didn’t know what to say.
“I was humbled, speechless, tearful, altogether moved that they thought of me – partly because it was a total surprise, partly because people I really care about care enough about me to come together and honor me,” says Perlmutter, philosophy professor and the director of the Yaschik/Arnold Jewish Studies Program. “I have worked hard on this project for a lot of reasons. I never expected to be rewarded for it. Academics don’t do what they do to have dining halls named after them.”
But, if they’re going to, the dining halls had better be something they can get behind. And Perlmutter is behind the new facility 100 percent.
“I’m most excited about using eating as an opportunity to show there are lifestyle options that are very important not just to your health, but to the environment, the economy and religious tradition, too,” says Perlmutter, noting that the new facility will serve vegan, vegetarian and some pescatarian dishes – all of which will be kosher. “Whether it’s about the Jewish culture or our food industry – there’s so much that goes into what we eat, and this will bring that to light a little bit. It will show that eating is part of a larger process.”
More than just a dining hall, the new facility is meant to be its own classroom, of sorts: educating students, faculty and members of the greater Charleston community about ethical eating through workshops, lectures and, most important, experiential learning.
“The experience of eating vegan food is itself a learning experience. I think this is experiential learning at its best – showing hands-on how what you eat affects the world around us,” says Perlmutter, noting that – unlike other campus dining locations – the facility will not offer an all-you-can-eat option. “This will be a place where you are thinking about what you are eating. Because it’s not just about the food, but the lifestyle it represents.”
Vegetarian and vegan lifestyles are becoming more and more popular in the U.S.: Since 2009, the number of vegans has doubled and the number of vegetarian youth has increased by 70 percent.
“A lot of kids have made the choice to go vegetarian or vegan or pescatarian in the past few years, and this just caters to them,” says Perlmutter. “I think this will be useful in recruiting. They’ll think, That’s groovy. I’m a vegan and this place can make that easier for me. Or, even if they aren’t, they’ll think, It’s cool that this place is tuned into this trend.
“Either way,” he continues, “it really is a feather in the College’s cap.”
With construction beginning this fall and an opening planned for the winter of 2014, the 5,000-square-foot restaurant will occupy the first floor of the expansion of the Sylvia Vlosky Yaschik Jewish Studies Center, will have some outdoor seating, remain open between meals and be open to the public.
“We want people to come in from off the street for a cup of coffee. We want the community involved,” says Perlmutter, adding that local restaurant owners and members of the College’s Vegan Society helped with the planning of the facility. “What I’m hoping is that it becomes a center for people who are concerned about what they eat – a congregating zone for those people to come and feel that they’re on a comfort level with like-minded people.”
“The facility will bring people with the common goal of healthy eating together, further integrating people from all faiths and backgrounds and expanding the learning opportunities that we offer our students and the community,” says Jenny Fowler, the senior development officer who helped secure the gift. The pledge, Fowler explains, supports the Jewish Studies Program’s $10 million A Time to Build campaign, which – since launching in the fall of 2011 – has raised more than $7 million. “The dining facility serves as the edifice of the campaign, a tangible illustration of the campaign’s success.”
It also illustrates the success of the program itself.
“The Jewish Studies Program is certainly one of the best in the country, and that is the result of the leadership of Marty Perlmutter. It was so natural for us to support this project and that the facility honor Marty’s unyielding dedication to the program and to fostering community,” says Norman Arnold, who – along with his wife – requested the building be named for Perlmutter, thus inspiring Zucker, Alan Kahn and Art and Annie Sandler to contribute to the project.
“This project happened because of role-model philanthropists,” says George Watt, executive vice president of institutional advancement. “They possessed great vision; they believed in the cause; and, through their own giving, they inspired others. It was an honor to work with them and Marty Perlmutter in making their vision a reality.”
And, while a sign with his name on it may have never been part of his original vision, in reality, Perlmutter is sincerely honored by the tribute – and thrilled to be bringing ethical eating to the College of Charleston.