The Peterson Events Center or "The Pete," home to the Baierl Recreation Center

The Infamous “Pete Surge” and How the University Is Responding

It was an unbearably cold winter morning in Oakland, made worse by the unrelenting breeze winding down Fifth. I strapped on my boots to avoid the charcoal slush that lined the pavement, and reluctantly grabbed my coat hanging next to the door. The mere thought of the wind and ice made me want to crawl back into bed, but I knew I had to beat the notorious “Pete Surge.”

You are probably confused, so let me provide some context. When the COVID-19 pandemic began in the spring of 2020, students all over found their schedules inundated with free time. It may come as no surprise that after the pandemic, one specific hobby began taking the world and every social media platform by storm: fitness.

Tiktok accounts promoting fitness, and fitness-related advice began appearing by the thousands, and the fitness community itself gained a cult-like following of vehement “gym rats” to support its cause. 

Fast forward to 2022, and while the pandemic is starting to come to an end, we have run into a new problem that has been terrorizing the Pitt campus, “The Pete Surge.”

The Pete Surge could be best described as the overcrowding that takes place between classes that lasts from roughly noon to when the gym closes at 11p.m. At these times, students find themselves in-between classes, or done with them altogether, and will come to the Baierl Recreation Center, reffered to as “The Pete,” in giant cohorts that leave the gym packed and overcrowded. It’s the reason why some students like myself are willing to wake up so early, and why others will just skip days altogether. To add insult to injury, Pitt’s plans for a future gym suggest that a new facility will be complete in 2024 after most of us graduate.

I, like many others, rely on fitness as a tool for maintaining mental and physical health, and so I am willing to forfeit a few hours of sleep if it means I can get a workout in.

Still, I wanted to ask other long-time gym-goers like myself to gain more perspectives into how this problem is affecting, not just myself, but students as a whole. 

Nick Mollicki, a first-year majoring in accounting and finance, and self-proclaimed gym rat, says he believes it’s time for change. He, like many others including myself, has opted to hustle in the morning to beat the crowd, a choice he says comes at the expense of his sleep.

“I definitely feel like the Pete can get overcrowded at times, especially between the hours of 1 and 7, which just so happens to be the only time that many of us can go at all,” he said.

But what about the higher crowds?

“I often am scouring the gym for various exercises due to all the areas being full,” he said. “Because the racks and benches are often full for much longer, I usually will have to wait 5-10 minutes for machines to be freed up.”

Situations like the one Mollicki describes is unfortunately a situation all too familiar to gym-goers like myself. When you can only squeeze your training session between your 1p.m. and 3:30p.m. class, 5-10 minutes can be a big deal and keep you from doing exercises that you like or an entire movement altogether. 

Other gym rats like Joseph (Joe) Allen, a first-year studying biology on the pre-med track, take a different stance.

Allen says that while he would prefer the gyms to have more free space, he is willing to put up with extra people “as long as [they] respect personal space and do not forget to wear deodorant.”

What he does say, however, is that a new facility, while not 100% necessary, would be a great addition to campus as a lot of the equipment in the Pete is “not of great quality” and “outdated.”

Simply put, Joe is right.

Many times old equipment tends to break. At the time this article is being written, the assisted pull-up machine and the abductor machine are broken. As one might expect, this makes an already packed atmosphere that much more chaotic.

Other on-campus gyms, like Bellefield and Trees, tend to be much smaller and even older than The Pete. A new facility would not only help spread out students but provide students with new equipment that matches the typical brands of most modern commercial gyms. 

Pitt’s new Campus Recreation and Wellness Center

As it turns out, Pitt is in fact constructing a whole new recreation center called the “Campus Recreation and Wellness Center ” where the O’Hara Garage and LRDC Building are located. The anticipated opening is set for 2024.

The building will house a recreation pool, a jogging track, weightlifting equipment, multi-activity courts for basketball, volleyball courts, and more. The project was developed through student input and lobbying from different student bodies and organizations.

“This project began with listening to students, and their voices were loud and clear,” Chancellor Patrick Gallagher said.

While students like myself are a little disheartened knowing that we will graduate before the opening of this holy site, one thing is for certain: future gym rats will have an easier time making gains, and those of us graduating will sleep a little easier knowing that.

The Unsavory Reality of Being Vegan at Pitt

It was a bleak winter evening, and after a long, stressful day, I was ready to head over to Pitt’s “Eatery” to get some food with friends. While I was getting my drink, my friends had already come back with their food: cheeseburgers, pizza, fettuccine alfredo with chicken — the whole nine yards. Hearing that there was a vegan station for students like myself, I made my way over, only to find three humble dishes of beans cooked in tomato sauce, brown rice with raisins, and sweet cauliflower (do not get me started on this one). 

The Eatery, Pitt’s main dining hall.

The truth is that while Pitt prides itself on being an environment of inclusion and diversity, one place where it seems to be falling behind is its food. For years, Pitt has been struggling to address the needs of those with dietary restrictions. This is especially true for those who adhere to a plant-based or vegan diet, where at times, options are either too expensive, of poor quality, or nutritionally inadequate. Regardless of what I might say, I am not the only one who feels this way.

James Lane, a freshman studying finance, who is also vegan, says that Pitt’s vegan food “would make for a great weight-loss program,” saying that “the vegan food at the dining hall is so bad, sometimes I just skip meals altogether.”

Lisandro Montalvo, a sophomore majoring in psychology who also trains in powerlifting, says that being vegan at Pitt is “damn-near impossible.” He adds, “I do not even rely on the meal plan because it is overpriced, the food is not good, and does not allow me to recover in time for my next powerlifting session … many times in the vegans section of the dining hall, there is not even an actual protein being served.” 

Breaking down the vegan options with on campus-dining at Pitt, it comes no surprise why students feel this way. In the Dining Hall, most of the sections serve very basic, stripped down versions of more complete meals. Take a look through the Pitt Vegan Masterlist online, and you will find that as a vegan, your options are pretty limited. You can usually choose from one of five things: pasta with marinara sauce, a hummus wrap with vegetables, french fries, a vegetable sandwich with ketchup and mustard, and the infamous veggie burger.

These options at first glance, may seem substantial and “pretty good for a vegan.” However, when these meals dominate what you are eating for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, they simply get monotonous. These “options” also tend to be low in calories, protein, and certain essential vitamins and minerals, but it does not need to be this way.

For example, at the Chipotle down the road from The Eatery, you can get a burrito with guacamole, sofritas (a plant based protein), black and pinto beans, salsa, and rice — a far more complete meal, than the $15 bag of “beyond meat chicken tenders” in Market to Go and Forbes Street Market (a purchase that would usually cost you $5.99 at whole foods). 

I took my concerns to Resident Student Association President Danielle Obisie-Orlu to gain further insight on how the university was accommodating vegan students. What I thought would be an innovative, enthusiastic response to this issue was underwhelming to say the least. The answer essentially followed the lines of “The Dining Task Force has been working closely with those in charge to make students’ voices heard,” yet there was no mention of anything being done. This statement becomes even more egregious when you consider that vegan meals can be made nutritionally adequate and affordable with the littlest bit of effort. 

To gain some inspiration into how vegan cooking can be made easy and affordable I took a trip to “All India,” an Indian restaurant in Shadyside. It was another long day for chef Harshat Bhavishyajot, who was rolling out rotis and parathas for the night’s dinner service.

The kitchen itself was haphazardly decorated with the smells of 30 different spices, ranging from fenugreek seeds to Garam Masala, and in some miraculous way was able to support the relentless stream of uber-eats and Grubhub orders despite its humble size. When I interviewed chef Bhavishyajot, he was managing several pans, pots, and a whole tandoori oven — a daunting task that was made to seem less serious by the smirk hidden behind his thick, black mustache.

*A platter of different vegetarian/vegan dishes served at All India in Pittsburgh, PA

When I asked about making vegan food and whether or not it was difficult, he said: “No, no, no, it is really quite easy, we simply replace any non-veg ingredients with vegan.” He then pointed at a tray of Sooji Halwa, a semolina pudding dessert native to his home region of Punjab, and said “this dessert is usually made with ghee, but we just replace it with sesame oil. It is very simple and very good.”

The Golden Temple in Amritsar, India that serves more than 100,000 people a free vegetarian lunch every day

He then explained that in the Sikh regions of Northern India, many dishes are already made vegetarian, and combine different plant based ingredients like chickpeas, potatoes, cauliflower, spinach, dhal (lentils), peas, and more. When I asked him how expensive the dishes were to prepare, he said “very cheap, almost free.” To elaborate on his point, a student can get an order of samosas, chana masala, and two large pieces of roti for under $15.

The truth is providing delicious vegan options that cover a student’s nutritional bases is not an ambitious pursuit, and has been done all over the world for thousands of years.

Whether you are vegan, or vegetarian for ethical, health, or religious reasons, it is time that we give all Pitt students healthy, reasonable food.