Brandeis Dinning: a Vegan Viewpoint

Before coming to Brandeis, I was very concerned about the meal options I would have as a new vegan. I decided to go vegan in April after being a vegetarian for 8 years. This decision was prompted by my curiosity about the vegan lifestyle, as well as by my passion for animal rights. Prior to making the transition, I researched popular vegan dishes and made plans to ensure that I would be getting appropriate proportions of daily nutrients on my new vegan diet. I meal prepped over the summer, always keeping rice, black beans, and an assortment of vegetables readily accessible. In addition, I tried venturing out to the vegan/ vegetarian restaurants nearby my town. Despite being delicious, the options were somewhat limited, so I tested recipes for some of my favorites traditionally non-vegan recipes at home, making recipes such as mac n cheese and mozzarella sticks vegan. I enjoyed trying new vegan products and learning more about the health and environmental benefits of veganism. College dining hall food isn’t often well regarded for its healthiness, its taste, or for its provision of options for students with differing dietary needs (I ate mostly dining hall cheese pizza my freshman year of high school), so I was nervous that eating at Brandeis could potentially be difficult for me with my new dietary restrictions.

Despite my hesitation, I selected the 12 swipe meal plan. I chose this plan as I hoped that the higher number of points would encourage me to test options beyond the traditional dining halls. Sherman was my first experience eating at Brandeis. I was pleasantly surprised to find that Sherman was serving sushi ( including a vegetable option). It proved one of my favorite options during my first week on campus. I also tried the veggie burgers at Sherman and some of the vegetables available. However, I found that some of the veggie burger options aren’t actually vegan, many of them include dairy, so it was very important to consistently read the labels. Over time, I’ve found that one of the veggie burgers, either in the kosher section or the non-kosher section is vegan (or says vegetarian, but doesn’t list eggs or dairy in its common allergens list).  Although the vegetables are often heavily coated in oil, I tried to incorporate them into each meal. I’ve continued to try the vegetables at Sherman throughout the first month of school, finding that I typically like the green beans, potatoes, and carrots best.

I first ventured to Sherman during my third week at Brandeis. Despite being late to the game, I had heard from some reliable sources that Usdan is the better dining hall (although this seems to be a popular debate). At Usdan, I’ve found that there tend to be more varied vegan options, instead of simply just vegetables and a grain. They often serve mock meat products in addition to occasionally serving tofu. I’ve even noticed them serving vegan spaghetti bolognese and vegan chicken and broccoli stir-fry. The tofu at Sherman is often very simply baked or seasoned with spices or sauce, but Usdan seems to spice up the options a bit more by adding vegetables and flavorful sauces into the tofu dishes.

 

Although I haven’t completely disliked the dining halls, I’ve enjoyed trying various foods from the C-store, Einsteins, and Upper Usdan as well. I initially really enjoyed getting the vegetable sushi from the C-store. The avocado, carrot, and cucumber combination provides a low-calorie meal with lots of vegetables, healthy grains, and healthy fats (the avocado). In addition to trying the sushi, I’ve tested the black bean fajita vegan wrap and the vegan falafel wrap. I found that the fajita bean wrap use of beans, tomatoes, and corn made it taste similar to chili. However, even though it was served as a cold sandwich, I suspect that it may taste better heated up. I was less of a fan of the vegan falafel wrap. I didn’t enjoy how the falafel seemed to be ground up in the wrap, sort of falling apart as I ate it. The c-store also has a sandwich called the vegan buffalo chicken wrap. I am not a fan of buffalo sauce or celery, two of its main ingredients, so I haven’t tried it at the moment. I was surprised by the quantity of vegan frozen foods and snacks that the c-store offered. In the frozen section, I’ve tried a few of Amy’s products, including the Pad Thai, the non-dairy/ gluten free pizza, and the teriyaki bowl. These frozen meals tend to not be the healthiest due to their high amount of sodium and their use of preservatives to maintain the quality of the food. Both the teriyaki bowl and the pad thai failed to taste like their namesakes. However, they weren’t awful. The pad thai tasted similar to noodles with a mellow peanut sauce. Although it wasn’t as flavorful as traditional pad thai sauce, the noodles cooked through well and it included some decent vegetable options (including broccoli, carrots, corn, and mushrooms). The teriyaki bowl also included limited sauce, but it was able to satisfy my craving for stir-fry. The pizza was a shockingly pleasant find. I typically don’t like vegan cheese (especially the Daiya brand), but the pizza simply tasted like pizza. The cheese tasted relatively real and was able to melt in a similar appearance to dairy cheese (some vegan cheese doesn’t melt very well). In my opinion, vegan cheese often tends to have a weird texture after its initial cheesy taste, but when I was eating the pizza, the crunchy crust and the light tomato sauce distracted from my dislike of the cheese’s texture. In regards to the vegan snacks available at the c-store, one of my favorite options is the dark chocolate covered bananas (the next brand isn’t vegan- so make sure to read the packages). I also enjoy the Davies vegan chocolate chip cookies (I’m not a fan of the Davies oatmeal raisin). They remind me of the Entenmann's cookies that I loved growing up as they are very soft and can easily break into pieces.

 

I’ve only tried Einsteins once, so I have limited experience with trying vegan options there. Plain bagels are typically vegan. If I haven’t had the opportunity to find out which options are vegan in advance, I’ll typically pick plain. However, certain specialty bagels (such as french toast or pumpkin) will occasionally include hidden non-vegan ingredients. Some bagels ( in addition to dairy)  include l-cysteine which comes from duck feathers. Fortunately, Einsteins uses a synthetic version of l-cysteine that is vegan. From some research online, I found that the plain, everything, pumpernickel, blueberry, chocolate chip, cinnamon raisin, cranberry, garlic, 9-grain, onion poppy, potato, pretzel sesame, power protein bagel, apple cinnamon, potato roll, and multigrain roll are all vegan. Initially, I was tentative to try some of the options at Currito as I was unsure which would be vegan. I found out that the Bangkok, the teriyaki, the summer, and the classic can all be made vegan. Unfortunately, the tikka cannot be made vegan as the sauce includes dairy (the chickpeas are also not vegan). For protein, both the pinto beans and black beans are thankfully vegan (sometimes beans are cooked with lard or in chicken stock). Currito also offers tofu. However, I have not particularly enjoyed the tofu the few times I’ve tried it, finding it somewhat poorly cooked likely because it is made into very large pieces. My experience with the food here has introduced me to some exciting new vegan options (albeit not being the most healthy), and it has shown me how important it is to take control of my own eating habits and value my choice to become vegan while living independently from my family.