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Friday, December 3, 2021

Mean Greens Cafe celebrates 10 years, looks toward future expansions

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Article Originally Published by Jillian Nachtigal on North Texas Daily

Article Originally Published by Jillian Nachtigal on North Texas Daily

The nation’s first all-vegan dining hall, which stands behind Maple Hall on the south side of campus, began crafting award-winning vegan recipes 10 years ago and introduced an on-campus hydroponic garden to grow fresh produce. 

On Nov. 3, Mean Greens Cafe filled with students, alumni, parents and staff as hors d’oeuvres were served and a live band performed. The dining hall was celebrating 10 years of providing quality vegan food to the university community and reducing the school’s carbon footprint through green growing processes and efforts within the building such as repurposing leftovers and recycling. 

“A lot of work and a lot of love goes into providing the food,” said Cristopher Williams, general manager and assistant director. “There’s a lot of attention to detail and wanting everybody to just have the best experience here.” 

Mean Greens made history when it opened in 2011 as the first 100 percent vegan university dining hall in the country and has since earned several awards honoring its commitment to food quality.

It was named the “best vegan dining experience in North Texas” by Dallas Culture Map in 2018 and its tomato curry recipe earned the Gold Award in Best Vegan Recipe category of the 2020 the National Association of College and University Food Services Nutrition Awards.

“It has to do with technique,” executive chef Matthew Ward said. “We stay true to real-world culinary techniques and we’re just using vegan products, we try not to overcomplicate it.”

Linguistics junior Joseph McCreary has been a vegetarian for seven years and said he is grateful to have these food options available on campus. As a transfer from the University of Oklahoma, McCreary did not have the same vegan dining options at his old school. 

“When I was transferring here, one of the things I was most excited about was coming to try out Mean Greens,” McCreary said. “A lot of places these days are offering more options but it’s really nice and really convenient to have a place on campus that’s so good at doing that […] and you don’t have to worry. It’s a relief honestly.”

The cafe also strives to provide its food in an environmentally friendly way. Mean Green Acres, UNT’s own hydroponic garden, is built on a repurposed semi-trailer and grows five to 11 different types of lettuce and herbs year-round. Williams said the garden reduces food shipments and the university’s carbon footprint while providing non-genetically modified ingredients to students. 

“The majority of things you get in the store have already been in transit for probably four or five days before you even get to it, so that takes away from the freshness right there,” Williams said. “Here, we pull [the food] out and it immediately goes to the back for processing and we put it right out on the salad bar. It’s awesome.”

The Mean Greens staff hopes to soon expand the on-campus hydroponic garden program so that Mean Green Acres can provide all the fresh herbs and leafy greens served on campus. The cafe itself may also move into a larger building on campus due to its popularity. 

“It’s a semi-top secret project in the works for us to move to another building on campus,” Williams said. “Hopefully once we move there we can up our seating to about three times and up the farm to hopefully three or four times on site so we can encompass the entire university with the program.”

Featured Image: The sign to Mean Greens dining hall hangs above the door on Nov. 8, 2021. Photo by John Anderson

Source: North Texas Daily

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