UT Arlington gets Down to Earth | Finally, a vegan place on campus + a giveaway!

“The best feeling is when my customers tell me they feel the love I put into my cooking. The mission of Down to Earth is to bring you good food that’s good for you!”

— Alma Rangel, founder of Down to Earth

My university, UT Arlington, hasn’t always been the best place for vegans, vegetarians, or earth and health conscious folks. Having been a student there for almost a decade (yes, I’m in grad school now), I’ve seen it all–the struggle of choosing a bruised banana or a greasy hashbrown for morning fuel was real. I remember at orientation, I made my first friend over a sad/hilarious vegan bonding experience over the slim pickings at the salad bar. We rallied with other forward thinkers (veg and non-veg!), advocating for more plant-based options on campus in various ways, earning unanimous support from Student Congress.

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Photo courtesy of Richard Hoang (The Shorthorn).

Options got better overall, but they weren’t particularly amazing or consistent. La Blue Casa had a great run at College Park, until it went down in an unfortunate turn. If you wanted vegan tacos, your best bet would be to make your own (which we did). Now, with the arrival of Down to Earth at College Park, students can get a variety of vegan tacos and other authentic, plant-based Mexican fare on demand. Read to the end to find out how you can win a free meal at Down to Earth!

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Down to Earth offers a variety of taco fillings, including nopalitos (cactus), calabacitas (Mexican squash), spicy sweet potato and black beans, and aguacate a la Mexicana (avocado fans rejoice)!

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Top 10 FAQ at Vegan Club’s Activities Fair Booth

Vegan Club Activities Fair Spring 2014

Thank you to everyone who visited the Vegan Club’s booth at the UTA Activities Fair earlier today!

Although I have graduated, I am still pretty involved with the club, so I was in charge of the booth at the Activities Fair today. We handed out a couple hundred mini chocolate chip cookies, soy/almond milk samples, and educational pamphlets with information and recipes!

Here are the top ten recurring questions we received at the booth today. Thank you so much for stopping by to chat with us–hopefully you will find the resources below useful!

  1. Do I have to be vegan to join the Vegan Club? I’m not vegan, but I want to eat healthier–can I join?

    Being vegan is not a prerequisite for joining. Whether you are vegan, vegetarian, or non-vegetarian, you are welcome to join our club! We are not an exclusive group–we are here to help anyone and everyone who has questions about veganism on campus.From our Facebook page:

    Our purpose is to promote the varying aspects of veganism in a positive manner. We aim to inform the public about veganism and its impact on animals, human health, and the environment. We hope to disprove the negative stereotypes about veganism in our efforts; we are not an elitist group and we accept all members who want to learn, vegan or not. 

  2. How can I keep in touch with the Vegan Club?Milk and Cookies with Vegan Club UTAFacebook is the best way to keep up with our events and the best place to ask questions! If you need a recipe suggestion or have questions, people in our group are always ready to help with answers from experience, so don’t hesitate to reach out to us. You can also follow the Vegan Club on Tumblr.
  3. What is the difference between a vegetarian and a vegan? Why don’t vegans eat dairy?

    Here is an excerpt from my detailed blog post about different types of vegetarians, originally published on The Shorthorn, UTA’s student news website on September 18, 2013. Read the post to learn more about students who are vegetarian or vegan at UT Arlington.

    All squares are rectangles, but a rectangle isn’t necessarily a square. Similarly, a vegan is a type of vegetarian, but a vegetarian isn’t necessarily a vegan.

    A vegetarian is someone who does not eat meat, but they might eat eggs and/or dairy. A vegan is someone who avoids animal products period, including dairy, honey, eggs. Vegans also avoid animal products such as fur, leather and wool. I gave up dairy in high school for a variety of reasons, the first being my love for the animals.

    I love cows, awwww!

  4. I’ve been wanting to become a vegetarian/vegan, but I don’t know where to start–can you help me?

    Before you make drastic changes to your diet, be sure to consult your doctor first. You can definitely count on us to answer your questions, based on our experiences, but don’t use us as a replacement for your physician.Here are some free resources that may be helpful to you (check them out for advice and tons of recipes):
    + VeganKit.com
    + Oprah’s Vegan Starter Kit
    + ChooseVeg.com (My favorite part of this site is the “Build A Meal” section!)
    + Veg Starter Kit | The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine
    + Guide to Cruelty-Free Eating | Vegan Outreach
    + 7 Back to School Vegan Essentials
  5. Where can I eat vegan food?

    Curried potatoes and chickpeas served over almond jasmine rice with sweet apple cole slaw. The Vegan Club has worked with several other groups to get UTA to install a veggie line that carries vegan options (the chefs are also very accommodating–just ask), though it could use some improvements. Places near campus that have vegan options include Beirut Cafe, Pie 5, Smiling Moose Deli, Cool Berry, Potager Cafe, Freebirds, Chipotle, and Mellow Mushroom. My favorite place is Loving Hut on Matlock, the closest vegan restaurant to UTA (about 15 minutes away). They have a great selection of vegan pizzas, wraps, sandwiches and rice dishes. Pictured below: Loving Hut’s carrot muffins.https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=628208733913622&set=pb.132147763519724.-2207520000.1390439568.&type=3&theater

    DallasVegan.com has a useful printable dining guide that features many vegan restaurants and options around DFW.

  6. Are there vegan options at fast food restaurants like Jack in the Box?

    I tend to avoid most fast food chains. However, sometimes my omnivore friends insist on going to a fast food place. If I am put into that situation, I turn to VeganEatingOut.com to read up on all the vegan options available–I always research my options before going out, so that I know how to make the best of my options. Here is their guide for Jack in the Box.
  7. How do you get your protein? I’m into fitness and am worried about getting enough protein as a vegan.

    Protein is not as hard to get as you may think! Beans, tofu, and nuts, among many other foods, all have protein.In 2012, UTA kinesiology senior Courtney Redden and her classmates conducted an interesting study about veganism and exercise. You can read about their findings, learn about Redden’s triathlon fitness routine, and check out her workout playlist in my article on The Shorthorn’s site.Protein Infographic
    The veg starter kits mentioned above (#4) have advice for getting enough protein, also. Still worried that veganism will hinder your fitness goals? Check out this list of top 10 vegan athlete blogs–being a vegan athlete is completely possible.
  8. How many types of vegan milks are there? Soy, almond, hemp, coconut, rice, cashew and hazelnut are the main types of alternative milks. Each kind usually comes in three flavors, on average (plain, vanilla, chocolate). So, I estimate that there are about 21 types of vegan milk out there! In my personal experience, most of these (if not all) can be found at Kroger and Whole Foods on Lamar St. in north Arlington. Even Target, Wal-Mart and CostCo carry soy and almond milk now.
  9. How can we get UTA to have better vegan options?Vegan Brownies at UTASo glad you asked!

    This is an ongoing effort with us. Here’s a little history…In 2012, the Vegan Club collaborated with seven other student organizations and Student Congress to pass a resolution calling for a vegan dining line on campus. Our hard work paid off. Student Congress voted and passed the resolution UNANIMOUSLY, and the vegan line was installed the following semester.

    However, since then, the line has changed to a vegetarian line, sometimes having vegan options…vegans often have to special-order meals.We’ve come a long way in expanding the options (there’s soy milk at breakfast and lunch now), but we have a long way to go. Vegan Club appreciates the dining staff very much, and would like Dining Services to follow through with all of the goals in the resolution we passed.

    We want to be in a position to regularly follow up with Dining Services to ensure that the cafeteria does continue to keep plant-based options available and varied for students.  Another step that has not been taken by UTA, though it passed in the resolution, is the labelling of all ingredients on the dishes served at Connections Cafe. Even non-veg students, some of whom have allergies or are health conscious, have voiced their concern about the need for more ingredient clarification.Vegan Club needs more enthusiastic individuals to join the group to voice our concerns (that’s you).

    We are currently looking for a student to carry out the officer role of Dining Services Correspondent. Because we all have many roles to play as officers, and because many of us are seniors (or grad students, like me) we feel the need to assign this duty to a specific person. If there is enough interest and participation from our members, maybe a dining committee can be formed. If you are interested, please comment on this post, or email veganclubuta(@)gmail(.)com and to let us know of your interest!

  10. I want to go vegan, but I love [insert food here] too much–do I have to give up my favorite foods to go vegan?

Vegan Alfredo Fettucine
Vegans still enjoy pizza, mac and cheese, ice cream, phở, cookies, even candy bars…you name it!  Whatever you like to eat, there is probably a vegan version of it. Eliminating dairy is not a limitation–I always think of it as an opportunity to experiment with new ingredients and flavor combinations.

If you have a specific craving, please leave me a question about it in a comment, or make a post in the Facebook group. The Vegan Club is here to help you, so please don’t hesitate to ask us anything you want to know about veganizing your favorite foods.

We handed out two kinds of chocolate chip cookies today, and got many requests for the recipes! Come back on Friday to get the recipes.

Any other questions? Please let me know! 🙂

Smiling Moose Deli | sandwiches + soup + studying

Last December, I adopted College Park’s Smiling Moose Deli as my study abode for an afternoon. At first, I came to grab food, but when I realized that they had free wifi and outlets available, I set up my materials and wrote my final paper there. The place offered a nice, warm atmosphere for studying and several vegan options to choose from. I ended up ordering a few dishes to keep myself satiated while working.

This place is very clear about labels and friendly about answering questions. Any of the vegetarian dishes can be ordered vegan if you ask them to hold the dairy products. Here’s my full review, originally published on The Shorthorn, UT Arlington’s student news website, published on October 2, 2013.

Before closing, they offered me free coffee (plus soymilk!) since it was the end of the day. Sweet. I had other study plans that night, so the caffeine came in handy.

Pictured above: Build-Your-Own salad, the Veggie Mo, and Vegan Vegetable Soup. The soup was hearty, and the sandwich was filling, but it was not my favorite. I loved the salad I had a few weeks ago–I tend not to order salads, but I was really craving fresh veggies and this hit the spot. I loaded it with all the toppings I could think of (they do not charge extra for extra toppings). College Park has several other vegan options too–check out my reviews here.

Good luck with finals! Load up on healthy snacks! 😉

7 Tasty Tips for a Solo Thanksgiving

The premise of Thanksgiving is not something I personally celebrate, and I definitely don’t eat turkey (here’s 50 million reasons why), but I am always grateful to have time off from school to spend time with loved ones. And it’s a time for students like me to catch up on studying, of course. Some break!

Quite a few of my friends at UT Arlington are international students, so they will not be attending large family Thanksgiving dinner parties. This is a post dedicated to them. If you’re having a quiet holiday this year and are unsure of what to make, here are a few yummy suggestions for a solitary, vegan Thanksgiving celebration. You don’t necessarily have to cook for hours and most of the dishes can be also be made gluten-free.

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Hot Chocolate

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Did you know that hot chocolate and hot cocoa are two different things? Check out my hot chocolate recipe post on The Shorthorn’s site to listen to learn more about the art of hot chocolate. The photos and following post were originally published on The Shorthorn, UT Arlington’s student news website, on November 20, 2013.

Hot cocoa is for drinking by the mug-full. Hot chocolate is for slow, indulgent sipping. Both will make you feel warm and toasty.

I came up with the idea of writing about hot chocolate last week, when it was freezing outside. Although this week’s forecast looks pretty warm, I’m going to post this in anticipation for future cold weather.

This is probably my favorite post I’ve ever done for work. Everything was too much fun! If you try the recipe, let me know how it goes!

Veggie Victories at UTA

photo 1 (2)Vegan brownies at UT Arlington! This is a big deal for UTA vegans. Yes, they are real.

Last week, my friend tipped me off about these vegan brownies on campus, so I decided to have lunch at UTA’s Connection Cafe.

I was excited to find Thai coconut curry noodles in the international line, with a clear “vegan” label. Also, I have since learned that any desserts placed at the vegetarian line will be vegan from now on. Yay!

While there is always room for improvement, I have been previously impressed with the increased availability of vegan options at UTA, thanks to the Vegan Club‘s work with Student Congress and the cooking staff’s cooperation and hospitality. A vegan line has been in place for about a year, but this semester it changed to a vegetarian line. Some vegetarian dishes are veganizeable if students ask for no cheese. Vegan desserts, plus a completely vegan entree in a non-vegan line, were not going to on my list of expectations for a while, but I was pleasantly surprised during this visit.

It’s exciting to have an increase in vegan options all around, even if it doesn’t seem like a lot, it means a great deal to students who rely on the meal plans.

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While UTA is surely improving, UNT’s vegan dining hall is a truly dream come true–UTA’s Vegan Club and I paid them a visit recently, to meet up with UNT’s vegan group. It was a worthwhile trek for good company and good food. We were met with more than enough vegan options to choose from, including fresh focaccia bread sandwiches, tostadas, soft serve ice cream and adorable tapioca pudding shots.

It was heavenly, and my first time having tapioca pudding! Special thanks to Ken Botts, the special projects manager for UNT’s Dining Services, for welcoming us so warmly, and for giving us advice on how to improve vegan options at UTA!

For those who may not know, the vegan cafeteria at UNT inspired UTA students to push for more vegan options on our own campus. We probably won’t have an all vegan cafeteria at UTA, but we appreciate the progress and we are grateful for the cooking staff’s efforts here.

What vegan things have you tried at UTA’s Connection Cafe? Have you been to UNT’s vegan cafeteria? If so, what elements would you like UTA to incorporate from UNT’s practices? Please share your experiences with me below, and feel free to contact UTA’s Dining Services to let them know what you think.

‘Blackfish’ Documentary | My Personal Thoughts + UTA Students Weigh In

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If you haven’t seen Blackfish yet, you need to check it out. The documentary about SeaWorld has been making waves, and not just among animal activist groups. I got to interview some UT Arlington students about the film for work.

An excerpt from my article, originally published on The Shorthorn, UT Arlington’s student news website, on October 23, 2013:

A killer whale named Tilikum killed Dawn Brancheau, one of the most experienced trainers at SeaWorld in Orlando, Fla., on Feb. 24, 2010. This was the third time the whale was involved in an incident resulting in a human death.

“Why is SeaWorld surprised that a wild animal did this?” university studies senior Tania Rodriguez said. “You isolate them from their natural environment and put them in a tub, and then you wonder why this happened?”

Rodriguez, who is a member of the Mavs Marine Biology club, says she recently viewed an online trailer for the documentary Blackfish. It spiked her interest, because she recalled Brancheau’s incident from 2010.

The film made its premiere at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival in January and has been well received by critics, receiving a 98 percent “Certified Fresh” rating from Rotten Tomatoes. It has also made an impact on pop culture — after seeing the documentary, the directors of Finding Dory made the decision to modify their animated movie’s depiction of a marine animal park. CNN will broadcast Blackfish 8 p.m. Thursday.

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