In 2011, in a time when frozen yogurt was popular, Edison bulbs filled restaurants and it was years before we imagined we’d be living in a pandemic, the University of North Texas
in Denton opened the nation’s first all-vegan dining hall on a college campus.
This month, the school celebrates the 10-year anniversary of the Mean Greens Cafe
, which serves house-made, plant-based dishes in a variety of cuisines. Popular dishes for students include made-to-order paninis, flatbread pizza and Seitan gyros.
UNT celebrated the 10-year anniversary of its all-vegan dining hall Wednesday.
Since 2011, the dining hall has focused on starting from whole ingredients, using the entire plant whenever possible. In 2015, the cafe started making its own seitan, a popular plant-based alternative that’s supposed to have a meat-like texture.
This Denton dining hall isn’t just about getting students to eat their vegetables, though. The effort has reduced the university’s carbon footprint through its hydroponic garden, Mean Green Acres. The specially designed, up-cycled freight trailer houses the garden just behind the dining hall, where it has five to 11 varieties of lettuce and herbs growing.
Assistant director, chef and Mean Greens dining hall general manager Cris Williams
This trailer garden is able to produce up to 750 heads of lettuce a week for the Mean Greens Cafe and the other four dining halls on campus, all on about just one gallon of water per day.
“We take pride in providing healthful, plant-based options for our community,” UNT Dining Services executive director Peter Balabuch said in a release. “Mean Greens has developed an enthusiastic following on campus and beyond, and we’re excited to continue its growth in the years to come.”
The dining hall’s kitchen has earned the Gold Award for Best Vegan Recipe for its tomato-mushroom curry in the National Association of College and University Food Services’ 2020 Nutrition Awards Contest. Wednesday’s celebration of the 10-year mark also introduced some new dishes to the students and public.
Today, UNT Dining Services is ranked the second-best college food in Texas and among the top 3% in the country, according to Niche
. It is the largest self-supported food service department in North Texas: With more than 20 retail food shops, five dining halls, an upscale dining restaurant, an in-house bakery and a full-service catering department, it serves about 5 million meals annually.
Like all of UNT’s dining halls, the Mean Greens Cafe is open to the public for just $8.45 a visit. The culinary team here also trains other chefs on campus: Each dining hall has at least one vegan or vegetarian entree every day.
(Food Editor's Note: Mean Greens Cafe sounds amazing, but shout out to the institution that is Bruceteria.)