Speciality Eats on Campus
What do vegan, Halal, gluten free and Kosher diets have in common, I hear you ask? There’s basically no options for them when you consider the abundance of venues on campus. As Josie, a volunteer from the Food Co-Op puts it, “the quality of the food [offered on campus] is not high enough for the exorbitant prices that we pay for it”. Lack of variety can sometimes lead to monotonous meals, with students opting instead to go off campus or pack lunch from home. So whether you follow a particular diet out of lifestyle, necessity and/or faith, here’s what is currently available:
Vegetarianism is pretty well catered for throughout main campus, with most venues designating large portions of their menus to vego foods. But vegan options are harder to come by as they exclude butter, eggs, cream, milk, honey, cheese and gelatin on top of all meats. While veganism is one of the more prevalent dietary requirements on campus, people like Elise from Vegesoc are still “not confident in what [they] would be offered here”. So if you're plant-based and interested in eating things beyond 'toast' or 'generic salads', other options include:
- The Indian cuisine served at JEWEL OF INDIA has three vegan options according to staff: the curried chickpeas, lentil dahl and potato bean curries. Served with rice and a vegetable samosa or onion bhaji and you've got a delicious, filling lunch.
- VEGESOC ’s weekly lunches take place every Tuesday and Wednesday at 12-2pm on Manning Sunken Lawns. It's all-you-can-eat for $5 (as a member) and was created to combat the “unimaginative” variety of vegan foods on campus, says volunteer Elise. If you're smart, you would co-ordinate pit stops with Funch or the many inevitable bake sales – it's like a cross-country road trip but cheaper and slightly less exciting.
- I've ordered the Vegetarian Burger at ZABELI twice now: the first time I was given the beef one and the second time I was served Portuguese Chicken. If you do manage to get the right order first time round, this burger should be vegan so long as their homemade patty contains no milk or eggs.
- The FOOD CO-OP doesn’t necessarily have hot, takeaway meals but instead offers a lot of quick and filling snacks. Their cosy hub has a range of fresh, healthy, additive-free and unpackaged foods including dried fruits, chocolate, nuts, popcorn, organic veggie boxes and Addiction Foods bliss balls and brownies. It’s a non-for-profit, community space that welcomes anyone interested in volunteering.
Other places with vegan options, or food that can be veganised include: LETTUCEHEAD (Manning), COURTYARD (Holme Building), SUBWAY (Jane Foss Russell), MISO HONI (Manning), RAW HEALTH BAR (Wentworth) and RALPH’S (the Arena Sports Centre) and EASYWAY (next to the Wentworth lifts).
It's interesting to note that there aren't any Gluten Free societies, support groups or networks on campus. I had to reach out to coeliac mates who've sussed out the scene and found out the hard way what they can and can’t eat at Uni. One simply responded with: “short answer: I don’t buy GF foods at uni hahah”. Gluten is a common protein that causes serious bowel problems for some. It's found in oats, wheat, rye and barley which rules out most breads, pasta, cereals, schnittys, chocolate and beer.
The issue with "gluten free" options on campus is the possibility of cross-contamination – even using the same kitchen utensils from a regular dish can cause issues for the seriously intolerant hours after the food has been eaten. But here's what is available, so use your judgement and know your grain boundaries:
- Tucked away in the corner of Wentworth, LANEWAY's breakfast menu can be made GF by requesting a change in bread. Their chorizo sausage dish has gluten in the lining, but is doable if you're gluten intolerant but not if you're coeliac. Their kitchen closes at 2pm sharp, so if you've got the arvo munchies, the only carbohydrate in their salads is rice. Laneway also stocks Springhill Farm and The Freshness Earth energy bars which come in a variety of flavours and are all GF.
- If you study BCom or accidentally wander into the Abercrombie Building, the superfood quinoa and Santa Fe green salad are gluten free at ABERCROMBIE TERRACE. They also offer friands, both in blueberry and raspberry flavours, to accompany your fifth coffee of the day.
- Like Abercrombie, PARMA and COURTYARD also offers GF pizza bases as well as similar variations of baked goods, muesli bars and fruit salads.
- FOOTBRIDGE STATION is your one-stop snack haven. It's like Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory if all chocolate was gluten free. Think lollies, health bars, chips, fruit chips, ricecakes and bliss balls. While they don’t serve hot fresh food, you can grab soup, risotto, Thai food and other pre-made microwavable meals for when you crave something a little fancier than Maggi chicken noodles.
- Check out CARSLAW KITCHEN (Carslaw Building), MINT CAFÉ (University Sports and Aquatic Centre) for a few more options. If the worst comes to worst, the carts and stands scattered around campus such as FISHER COFFEE CART and MANNING KIOSK serve a Summer Salad in the refrigerators (only buy if you're really desperate).
Halal certified food simply means that it is permissible for a Muslim to eat, according to Shahad from the Sydney University Muslim Students’ Association. Most everyday foods are considered Halal, however there are certain limitations on meat consumption, excluding seafood. Pork cannot be eaten, along with all foods with alcohol in it. Additionally, meat has to be slaughtered following a particular method. There’s a pocketful of options for Muslim students on campus, however they are “sparse and aren’t really available” says Shahad. “It would be great to see more availability of [Halal] food options enabling a greater range of food to choose from on campus”. Most of the vendors I spoke too could not guarantee that their meats and byproducts were Halal as the third-party factories they source from may cross-contaminate or have not publicly disclosed such information. SUMSA encourages more restaurants to take on Halal meat options, but in the meantime there’s always:
- You know it was coming, but UNIBROS is the most well-known venue on campus with 100% Halal certified meat. If you haven’t cued up before already, UniBros sells pide, pizza, kebabs, burgers, wraps and their famous meat boxes with chicken, beef or mixed meat served on top of rice or chips.
- PARMA has their Halal certificate kindly plastered on their glass baked goods display, while JEWEL OF INDIA also serves Halal certified meat.
- Alongside vegetarian and gluten-free options, the sticker system at RALPH's clearly outlines all the Halal meat options. Think chicken or rissole wraps, schnitzel or spicy pepperoni sandwiches, peri peri salads, burgers, kebabs, skewers, spicy Turkish beef fry-ups and omelets in the morning. There's an option for every hour of the day, so look out for the bright red sticker for 100% certification.
Australia’s Jewish population makes up approximately 0.5% of the overall country, “so the demand for Kosher food is not as high as countries such as Israel, the USA, UK or France” according to Shana Kerlander, CEO of Mandelbaum House. ‘Kosher’ means keeping to Jewish dietary laws, as outlined in sacred texts. As a basic overview, certain land, sea and air animals are forbidden both in their main form and in byproducts (including pork, shellfish, crocodile and insects). Meat must be slaughtered in a particular way, and cannot be prepared or eaten neither with or near dairy products. Mandelbaum is the only Kosher outlet on campus, so 100% certified options are extremely limited and hard to come by for strictly Kosher followers. “Kosher students from abroad are often surprised and disappointed that even supermarkets in Australia carry a limited quantity of kosher food,” continues Kerlander.
- The main option in the Camperdown perimeter is Mandelbaum House. Mandelbaum is a residential college near the Abercrombie Building. As it has two strictly separate kitchens for food preparation (one used for meat, the other used for dairy), it is the only kosher-certified food outlet at USYD. They offer eighteen meals each week, with vegetarian, vegan, gluten free and lactose free adjustments available. Non-resident students or university staff must contact Mandelbaum House beforehand to dine here.
Photo source: Mandelbaum House
- According to their website, SNACK EXPRESS stocks Kosher certified food. Apparently not, to the best of staff’s knowledge. I was palmed off to CARSLAW KITCHEN, who I can now confirm also do not stock Kosher food.
WHAT IS THE TRUTH?
- Similarly, it is claimed on the USU website that THE DECK in the Wilkinson Building also stocks Kosher certified food. However, when asked, staff were unaware of this and it remains unclear as to whether or not they do stock Kosher certified options.
Everyone I spoke to concluded that their options were limited and generic, regardless of whether their diets were for ethical, health, religious or personal reasons. If you’re unsure of what you’re eating, look at the ‘contains’ or ‘may be present’ list on the packaging or ask staff to find their ingredient information sheets - it’s best to double check. A lot of employees struggled to account for their speciality options and some even misinterpreted what each diet meant, so be prepared to explain what you can and can’t consume. Until options increase, continue showing interest in your dietary requirements being catered for and chat to your favourite campus food vendors.