Members of the University and Charlottesville community came together to enjoy mac and cheese — made entirely without dairy — Saturday. This event was a vegan mac and cheese cook-off hosted by Veggies of Virginia, a CIO on Grounds that aims to support animal advocacy, the environment and healthy living through a plant-based diet. VoV works towards this goal through events such as documentary screenings, guest speakers and potlucks.
The event was held in Newcomb Hall and featured music, a Roots gift card raffle and of course, delicious mac and cheese. Judges and attendees were able to sample different macaroni dishes and vote on their favorite. To attend the event and taste the different dishes, tickets were sold for $5 in advance and $7 at the door.
Five students entered their own dishes to be tasted by 45 attendees from all over Charlottesville. Joining them were three judges — Dean Allen Groves, vegan-food blogger Carrington Kernodle and The Juice Laundry founder Mike Keenen. Kernodle was last year’s winner.
“The main goal of the mac and cheese cook-off is to bring together the U.Va. and Charlottesville community, to enjoy vegan food and get together a like-minded community of people who care about plant-based living,” said Camille Rovani, fourth-year College student and president of VoV.
This is the second year that VoV has hosted the cook-off and seeks to raise awareness about plant-based diets.
“We promote plant-based advocacy,” Rovani said. “Essentially our three main pillars are animal rights, sustainability and health and wellbeing.”
The dishes that were entered in the competition had a variety of flavors. Fourth-year Commerce student Rachel Clark entered a fall-inspired mac and cheese, titled “Autumnal Cheesy Goodness.” Joshua Crane, third-year College student and VoV secretary, entered a tangy Buffalo-flavored dish. Second-year College student Jamie Staeben entered a “Nutty, Creamy, Gooey” macaroni dish.
Two winners — one people’s choice and one judges’ choice — were selected and received a gift basket with vegan snacks, a Roots gift card and photos of on-Grounds scenery from photographer Hoowithaview.
Second-year College student and VoV social chair Brooke Crouch was the people’s choice winner. Her dish was a classic creamy mac and cheese with elbow noodles. Her goal was to recreate the mac and cheese from her childhood.
“I think the cook-off is just promoting veganism to the broader U.Va. and Charlottesville community and showing people how easy and fun and delicious being vegan and living a vegan lifestyle can be,” Crouch said.
The judges’ choice winner was third-year Architecture student Anna Drumheller. Her dish, “White Mac that Slaps,” was a creamy, baked mac and cheese made with vegan cream cheese, bread crumbs and almond milk.
“I love to cook, and I’m not actually vegan or vegetarian but I try,” Drumheller said. “I just support the cause and feel like people fear that vegan food won’t just taste good or have the same effect as food you grew up with, but this proves you can.”
The attendees seemed to enjoy eating the dishes as well. First-year College student Halleigh Carson was excited to try the dairy-free dishes.
“I love mac and cheese, [and I] love vegan food,” Carson said. “I’m lactose intolerant so mac and cheese that won’t make my stomach cramp is amazing.”
Even though she isn’t vegan herself, Carson thinks that events like the cook-off are important for showcasing that plant-based diets are not as hard to transition to as they may seem. According to Carson, people who transition to a meatless diet find that they can still enjoy many of the same foods.
“I think this event is important because it makes people aware that if you want to have a vegan, vegetarian or plant-based general diet, you don’t necessarily have to change what you eat,” Carson said. “You can still have regular mac and cheese, but you just don’t use regular cheese with dairy in it.”