Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Mean Greens: A University of North Texas Cafeteria Goes Vegan

When students returned this August for their fall classes at the University of North Texas in Denton, Texas, they were treated to a healthy surprise – the UNT Dining Services has converted the Maple Hall cafeteria to become a new 100% all-vegan full-service cafeteria, Mean Greens. The decision was based on a survey of University of North Texas students in which 15% responders were vegetarian and 5% were vegan – and, of course, to attract more students with specific dietary preferences to the campus.

In order to create the perfect vegan menu, UNT Dining Services staff visited a number of restaurants in the Dallas-Fort Worth area for inspiration, and according to a press release by the UNT Dining Services, “The culinary staff has been creating recipes using nothing but fresh herbs, vegetables, fruits, beans, and whole grains.” Apparently, the University of North Texas is the first in the US to open an all-vegan cafeteria to meet the plant-based needs of its students.

But that’s not all – the UNT Dining Services will also make, on the spot, any vegan dish upon request by concerned students. In “White Paper: A Vegan Diet,” published by the UNT Dining Services, vegetarian or vegan options are offered at other cafeterias on campus, with each item being labeled with a “V” next to each item. However, “If a nutrition card is not available on the food being served or the student has questions about the food preparation, a manager is always available to assist the student with his or her questions. If a student is still concerned about food preparation of the item, he or she can ask for the food to be prepared a different way as long as the ingredients needed are available in the cafeteria.” Moreover, managers at non-vegan cafeterias are requested to maintain at least one vegetarian option daily for students who didn’t want to eat meat for either environmental, compassionate, or health reasons. Students at the University of North Texas can also visit a registered dietician at the UNT Wellness Center for consultations on the planning of a healthy and balanced vegan lifestyle.

In an interview with NT Daily, Ken Botts, director of special programs for UNT Dining Services, stated, “We put a lot of effort into designing recipes that would provide protein, would provide the necessary vitamins and nutrition to a balanced diet, so chances are, you’ll get a better balanced opportunity in your food choices at Maple than you would at any other eating establishment in and around campus.” Opened to the public on August 22, the concept for an all-vegan cafeteria began a year ago.

Speaking to the University of North Texas News Service, Botts commented, “Most schools only have one or two cafeterias, so it is difficult for them to dedicate an entire dining hall to one type of cuisine. We are fortunate to have five cafeterias on our campus, so it made sense to diversify the dining halls to offer more variety. UNT has a very diverse population with many different tastes and lifestyles, and we believe that this new dining option will be attractive to current students and community members.”

In addition to begin the first vegan university cafeteria in the nation, Mean Green is also going green: plates are used instead of the traditional cafeteria trays, which cut water usage by 40 percent. And surprisingly, not all students who dined at now popular vegan cafeteria are vegans or vegetarians – they’re simply students who love good, healthy food.

Impressed by the university’s decision to provide healthy food to its student body, Animal-rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals honored the University of North Texas with the Compassionate Campus award. Kudos to UNT for blazing the vegan trail in the cattle-country Lone Star State!

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