The Vegetarian Resource Group Blog

Dining Services at University of Florida, Truly Vegan Friendly?

Posted on June 30, 2015 by The VRG Blog Editor

By Ivy Grob

I began to call the University of Florida campus home in August of 2014. A recent high school graduate and only a vegetarian at the time, I was nervous and excited to move four hours away to Gainesville, Florida and to be on my own for the very first time. As I made the commute to my new town, I was faced with many uncertainties about living on campus in a dorm. Would I get along with my new roommate even though we’ve never met? Would I be successful in a large college atmosphere? Surprisingly, my diet was the last thing on my mind. I was so excited to be independent and to finally be able to go grocery shopping by myself that I decided not to buy a meal plan, plus after having to pay for my dorm out of my own pocket I decided I could not afford the upfront cost. But I had access to my own car and a communal kitchen, so I knew I would survive.

And I did survive, but I was definitely unprepared. I soon realized that I did not appreciate having meals cooked for me every night by my mother until they were gone. Nearly every day, I resorted to eating prepackaged microwave Indian and Chinese food, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, canned soup, and I attended as many events as I could that offered free cheese pizza. I lost weight because I was eating less portions and more sporadically than at home, but I felt unhealthy and knew I needed a change. After discussions in my sustainability class and further research on my own about environmental issues and animal rights, I decided to take the next step into veganism. I knew it would not be easy at first, so I weaned myself off dairy gradually by finishing the products I still had around and then just not buying them anymore. I learned to cook better meals for myself, to make my own versions of the prepackaged junk food I once loved, and to understand the importance of reading labels at the grocery store. Veganism became an integral part of my being, and even though it made me stand out slightly from the rest of my peer group, I knew I would never go back.

Looking back on my first year of college, part of me wishes I would have gotten at least a partial meal plan as incentive to get out of my dorm and make new friends, but another part of me wonders if this would have made my transition into veganism difficult. The meal plan definitely seems like a get-out-of-jail card for cooking during stressful times of the semester like finals week. So what would the meal plan truly be like? If you are a vegan or vegetarian high school senior that is considering the meal plan for your freshman year, you deserve to know.

The University of Florida was voted to be the #1 most vegan friendly large college campus in the country by in 2014. This was calculated by popular vote, not by the people who actually work for Peta. If you know anything about UF, you know how competitive we are against other schools for titles. You should not to discredit this completely because there is a separate vegan section in the dining halls called the “Vegan Station,” so at least you won’t have to worry about proper labeling. Since I didn’t have access to the meal plan to investigate the Vegan Station myself, I asked a few friends that had the meal plan last year about the options.

Jess Kessler, a rising sophomore who is a Wildlife Ecology and Conservation major says, “The vegan food is usually pretty good there. The downside is there are usually very few options and the same ingredients are used for everything. My favorite vegan option was a spinach tofu wrap.” She also states the dining halls did not feature any vegan desserts.

Stephen Paolini, a Sustainability Studies major, says about the options, “Undercooked tofu topped by the entire spice drawer and thrown into cold vegetables and served with ungodly slow and inattentive service that often turned into 30 minute waits [at the] hybrid “vegan/vegetarian station”

If you want to use the dining hall as a back-up, there are a number of other restaurant options across campus where you can either substitute your meal plan or use the flex bucks that come with the purchase of a meal plan. Here is a comprehensive list with the vegan and vegetarian options at each location, but notice that many of restaurants use the same oil in all the cooking they do. The main options I see that go beyond French fries and plain rice are Moe’s Southwest Grill, Subway, and Crouton’s Hand-Crafted Salads. For desserts or drinks to take to class there is Jamba Juice and Starbucks; both can be easily manipulated to vegan. I actually found The P.O.D. Markets to be very convenient and useful because they are located all over campus. They have typical over-priced snack foods but also hummus and pretzel cups, Clif bars, and other basic meal necessities if you can’t make it to a grocery store.


With any dietary choices, health should always be a forerunner on how you come to a decision. Some people can eat out for every single meal and not gain a single pound. But the freshman fifteen does exist, so eating the highly processed foods at these places everyday might start to show.

Ultimately, UF is filled with vegan friendly options, but I can easily see them becoming repetitive and boring. From a financial perspective, I’ve found reassurance in my decision to not spend the money on a meal plan. I might have lost some social opportunities, but I gained important cooking skills and learned how to properly grocery shop. If you happen to be part of a program or scholarship where the meal plan is included or the cost is not a problem for you or your family, you won’t have to give up veganism your freshman year. But if you are transitioning from vegetarianism like I was, I would consider all the options you have before making the commitment. Freshman year is filled with so many ups and downs, your vegan diet should not have to be one of the low points.

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