From freshman fifteen to late night study sessions, college is a Mecca of poor food choices, overindulging, and eating at all hours of the day. I recently volunteered for the computer department at my alma mater for the freshman computer handout. We were stationed in the lower level of the cafeteria. I was curious, have food options progressed in over 5 years to accommodate the multitude of dietary scenarios? While there were a few options such as a gluten-free station and granary, which offers one vegan dish and vegetables, comparatively, still slim pickings.
We will now teleport over to the state of Texas, known for big hair, big cowboy hats, and big meat eaters. Yet, one university has set a standard that many should surely follow. The University of North Texas introduced an all vegan cafeteria, Mean Greens. Finally, here is a school that listened to the numerous requests of all to have more vegan and vegetarian options. The dining services of the university realized with five dining halls, that they had the option to diversify.
“We feature a mix of over 20 different entrees and sides daily along with a Vegan sushi bar, Panini Station, Pizza/Pasta station, Fresh grilled veggies, Rotisserie Corn and an assortment of Vegan Desserts,” said Ken Botts, Special Projects Manager of Dining Services. “What we have done by design is create menu options that focus on fresh whole ingredients that contain plenty of; plant protein, calcium, vitamin d, iron and vitamin b-12. You will find that a meal at Mean Greens is more nutritionally complete then the typical burger, fries and a soda type of meal.”
The changes at UNT are a true reflection of a national movement and advocacy to offer healthier foods in cafeterias. The collective feedback through their UNT Dining Services Facebook page, monthly student run food advisory committee, and student secret shoppers, supported the creation of the new dining hall. “Just want to say that I have really enjoyed the new Mean Greens. I have been a (lacto-ovo) vegetarian since 2002 and really enjoy the exclusively vegan selection at Mean Greens. I typically eat lunch at Mean Greens several times per week and really look forward to the all-vegan fare,” said Alyssa Ferrer, student.
Sustainability practices including recycling are extended throughout the dining experience. Sourcing local foods, having a tray-less cafeteria, which cuts down on pre and post-consumer waste by 40%. They have cut daily deliveries from 18 trucks every other day to one. According to the university, the ingredients are more costly but because of the increase in business from off campus visitors and increased sales of meal plans, it balances out. There is also less food waste as a result of the tray-less dining because diners only take what they can eat which results in additional savings.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 12.5 million children and teens are obese. The food lessons learned in conventional cafeterias transition over to the university level. UNT is creating a new custom that more universities and educational institutions should follow. Here is a shining example that parents, faculty/staff, and students can use to petition their own educational institutions for living in the realm of vegan food possibilities.
“The food is GREAT,” said Nicole Cocco, a UNT employee. “I couldn’t even tell nor did I care that there was no animal anything in my lunch, and the apple cobbler was TO DIE FOR. (They) did an amazing job, and I still haven’t found another college or university that has gone that extra mile.”