Category Archives: ATX / UT

Is it a RIP-Off?: Drag Edition

Austin is full of things to see, do and experience— and half of them are total rip-offs. So I’m here to tell you what’s best and what’s a mess. This week’s subject: The Drag. 

  1. Torchy’s Tacos 
Courtesy of: Visit Austin

Verdict: Rip-Off

Why: Come on. You knew this was coming. We live in Texas. You can get better tacos for less money at pretty much any food truck. 

  1. Whataburger 
Courtesy of: Unsplash and Tendaishe Gwini

Verdict: Worth It

Why: Say what you want about Whataburger not being as good as it was five years ago, it’s still a Texan staple. From the fun orange color scheme to the iconic Dr.Pepper shake, this is the place to go at 2:00 a.m. with $5 in your pocket. 

  1. Coco’s Cafe 
Courtesy of: Fearless Captivations

Verdict: Rip-Off

Why: To be honest, I’ve never gotten the hype around Coco’s. It has okay drinks, long lines and an expensive price tag. I’d recommend getting your boba fix elsewhere.

  1. Caffe Medici 
Courtesy of: Flickr

Verdict: Worth It

Why: Caffe Medici is a prime study spot. There is something on the menu for everyone, including coffee, matcha and Italian sodas. Plus, the atmosphere is student-friendly and there’s plenty of seating.  

  1. Kerbey Lane
Courtesy of: Kerbey Lane

Verdict: Rip-Off AND Worth It

Why: The food is mediocre but no one really goes to Kerbey for the food. They go for the tradition and for saying they ate chocolate cake with friends at 4:00 a.m. after finishing a final paper (possibly based on a true story). So, yes, it is a rip-off, but I also highly recommend you go sometime in your college career. 

Now that you’re armed with knowledge, go forth and explore the drag with confidence! You are most certainly not getting ripped off today.

6 Tips For Living Off Campus

Off-campus living has been one of the most enriching experiences of my years in college. Not only did I get a taste of being on my own, but I also got to learn a little bit about being an adult— bills, commutes and finally getting to turn the thermostat down when it’s too hot.

It can be overwhelming to try and tackle this experience as an 18 or 19-year-old in the middle of class schedules, job searches and everything else, so here are some tips to live the best off-campus life.

1. Pick a Place You Like

My apartment is 20 minutes off-campus, but I would much rather be here than somewhere close in a cramped sardine can. I knew I would likely be picking an apartment complex I’d spend the rest of my college years at, and wanted to find a place that I wanted to go home to every day. So, find an apartment that makes you smile, and not one that you’re just trying to stick out for a semester or two.

2. Background Check Those Roommates

When it comes to the off-campus apartment life, you’ll be picking your own roommates. If they’re not friends, then definitely meet up beforehand and talk to them. You’re going to be spending so much time with this person, and sleeping across the hall from them at night. Make sure they’re bearable. I have heard an abundance of roommate horror stories and trust me when I say you don’t want to be the one having to tell them.

3. Research Locations

When picking a place, check out the area. Try to find somewhere in a nice area with a grocery store and some of your favorite places nearby. This is your main location so it’s always nice to have everything you need around. Beyond that, it’s good to try and find safer areas to put some roots down in for the next few years.

4. Figure Out Your Budget

The biggest reason I chose not to live in West Campus was affordability. I’d much rather commute to school every morning than spend $1,200 a month for a shoebox. It was outside my budget and even with my student loans, I probably wouldn’t have been able to do it. By figuring out what I could afford I was able to find a nice place within my budget.

5. Don’t Isolate

Living off-campus can feel isolating sometimes because you’re so far away from the action and, a lot of the time, your friends. Don’t let the distance isolate you from campus. Join clubs and make time to see the people you care about. Sometimes it’s a 10 to 20 minute drive, but it’s worth it to get the socialization you need to have an enjoyable college experience.

6. Plan For The Commute

Make sure you know how long the drive to campus is with morning traffic so that you’re not running down Speedway to get to class on time. And even more important, make sure you have a parking plan! Sign up for a parking pass and try to pick a place that’s convenient for you. If all else fails, you can always find room in one of the garages on campus or find some street parking nearby. If you don’t have a car, be sure to check out bus routes or, if you’re close enough, the time it takes to walk to class.

Finding a place to live can be tough, but the place you go home to everyday is supposed to be your escape from the rollercoaster of college, so make sure you’re investing the proper amount of time in finding it. Find a place that makes you feel happy, so when you’re cramming for midterms at three in the morning you’ll at least have some comfort in the fact you’re doing it in a safe, inviting space.

5 Things you (won’t!) be missing During virtual orientation

The University of Texas is holding freshman orientation online this year rather than on campus. So, if you’re an incoming freshman you may be wondering “what am I missing?” Well, I’m here to tell you 5 things you’re NOT missing from in-person orientation.

1. The Heat

Courtesy of: Giphy

Texas heat is absolutely brutal. In-person orientation is basically a sweat-athon of walking in 100-degree Austin weather.

2. Getting Lost

Courtesy of: Giphy and the NFL

There are three things that are certain in life: Death, taxes and getting lost at in-person UT orientation. Don’t worry about not getting lost on campus at orientation, though. You have plenty of time to do it during the rest of the school year.

3. The GPS Taking You the LONGEST Route Ever Created

Courtesy of: Giphy

Technology is great, right? Wrong! At least not during UT orientation. Without fail, your GPS will route you the way that not only takes the most time, but also makes absolutely no sense. Seriously, WHO decided the best way to get from Jester to Moody is Guadalupe Street? I just want to talk.

4. Cramped Elevators

Courtesy of: Giphy and Nickelodeon

During in-person orientation, everyone stays in the Jester dorms. That means everyone is trying to use the same elevators, usually all at the same time. Who needs personal space, right?

5. Being Told Not to Bring a Blanket (And Then Freezing to Death at Night)

Courtesy of: Giphy and Sesame Street

If you didn’t know, the in-person orientation packing list specifically tells you that blankets will be provided so you shouldn’t bother bringing one. What they don’t tell you though is this “blanket” provides about as much warmth as covering yourself with an H-E-B receipt.

No matter if you went to orientation in-person or online, you’re a Longhorn now! So, get your horns up and your burnt orange shirt on. This is going to be a great school year!

Goodbye UT, it’s been real!

This is it. My time at The University of Texas at Austin has come to an end. I must say, clicking “end meeting” at the end of my final undergraduate class was probably the most anti-climactic moment of my life.

As I write this article, graduation is in three days so naturally I’ve been looking back at the past four years. Getting to this point has definitely not been a walk in the park. It was more like a chaotic walk down Speedway in which I was run over by multiple bikes, tripped over several bricks, and fought for my life against an albino squirrel. But I’ve made it. My interactive degree audit says 100%. It’s over and I learned quite a lot. So as my parting gift to you, here are the biggest lessons I’ve learned at UT.

It’s okay if you got a 40 on your first chemistry exam

I went into that exam ready. I knew the material. I was confident. I was relaxed. Then we got the scores back, and I did horribly. I got a 40 on what was supposed to be the easiest exam of the semester. Did I cry in my dorm? Yes, but looking back, I wish I could say to myself: “stop being so dramatic, you’re not even going to be a pre-med major.” 

Yes, it sucked to fail but you just have to keep going. You have to see what you did wrong. What studying methods didn’t work? Which ones did? Talk to your professor, and take your time. I kept calm, continued to work hard and then got an 80 on exam two. You’re going to take a lot of exams and have a lot of assignments, don’t let that one bad grade derail you. As long as in the end you understand that topic to the best of your abilities, that’s all that matters.

As one of my favorite underrated Disney movies says: “keep moving forward.”

Invest in pass/fail

This might’ve just been me, but I wasn’t very knowledgeable about the pass/fail option pre-pandemic. This is why I let a D+ in biology completely tank my GPA when I could’ve just pss/failed the class. I highly suggest talking to your academic advisors about how pass/fail works and what it does to your GPA. Especially since classes are going back to in-person next semester, the unicorn COVID pass/fails will not be making a return.

Always remember. Pass/fail is not an excuse to completely stop trying in your class. You should still try your best, no matter what your best looks like. 

Do not take three major intensive courses at the same time

Now you can obviously do this if you so desire, but just know it’ll be awful. Fall semester 2019, I took Reporting: Words, Reporting: Images and Media Law all at the same time, and I’ve never been more exhausted in my life. It’s hard.

The key to surviving taking multiple intense courses at a time is time management and having a friend who will understand your pain (shoutout to Alyssa Crosby.) But the other key is to not do it. I know it may seem like it’s best to get them out the way, but there really is no rush. You’ll end up over-worked and highly stressed when you could be decently worked and moderately stressed. College isn’t a sprint race; it’s a slow jog with the occasional fast-walking.

Talk to yourself

This one is for my fellow journalism majors. As I’ve been studying journalism, the thing I’ve heard the most is; journalists struggle with finding their conversational voice. My tip for this; talk to yourself. I talk to myself like I’m a YouTube vlogger, documenting every single moment of my day. Do my roommates probably think I’m weird? Yes, but it really helps.

Conversational tone is all about writing as if you’re having a conversation with your readers. That’s a little hard to do since as you’re writing, the only reader listening to you is your Google Docs page. This just means you have to be your own reader. Talk to yourself as you write and it’ll come out naturally. If you don’t talk to yourself (weirdo), how do you talk to your friends? This is the key, then through in some jokes and a little sarcasm (with AP style of course), and you’re good to go!

Hook ‘Em

Here is where I throw in random tips because I couldn’t think of a good one to end the list.

Group projects are the worst thing on this planet, and there’s nothing you can do about them. Best thing to do is close your eyes, breathe and pray for the end. Are you really going to use that $200 textbook? Wait until you have an answer before you buy it because most of the time you can survive off lecture notes. If you’re taking a foreign language class, reverso is your best friend, trust me. Lastly, one you’ve heard many times before, join a club – they’re fun. If you’re in need of suggestions, BurntX is a great place to start.

And now I bid adieu to UT Austin, it truly has been real. Next stop – graduate school, please keep me in your thoughts.

Featured designs courtesy of Kara Fields

Let’s Taco ‘Bout Veganism

No one can relate to the feelings of a baby cow more than Lauren Ornelas can. 

“My mom was taking care of my sisters and I and she would have to leave me places and I would miss her,” Ornelas said. 

“I would see the cows in the fields and I would think, ‘I don’t want to be responsible for their suffering and their pain,’” Ornelas said.  “You know, the baby waiting for the mom or mom waiting for the baby, and somebody decided to eat them.” 

Photo by Doruk Yemenici on Unsplash

Ornelas is the founder of the Food Empowerment Project and Vegan Mexican Food Recipe site. Latinx vegetarians/vegans like Ornelas are used to receiving gasps and skepticism from family members after shifting to a plant-based lifestyle. For years, a certain image has dominated the vegan and vegetarian world, and that image didn’t always include people of color.  

“I think it’s because a lot of what has been brought to people talking about these issues have been white people,” Ornelas said. “But (it) hasn’t been the brown or Black people whose cultures didn’t consume a lot of animal products, or were (already) vegetarian or vegan.”  

Even though the Latinx community and other communities of color have started to break through the white noise of veganism, the relationship between veganism and the Latinx community is strained, which makes life as a Latinx vegetarian a bit… complicated. 

Lauren Ornelas: Photo by Pax Ahimsa Gethen

The complication starts with the word itself. Ornelas said part of the reason why the words vegetarian and vegan scare some Latinx people away is because of who’s been in the spotlight. 

“I think that (vegetarianism) seems kind of a white thing, because that is what is always presented and part of that’s right because we don’t get the same platform,” Ornelas said.

While food is a big part of Mexican culture, Ornelas added there’s a misconception that meat is also a big part of Mexican culture. She said many of Mexico’s Indigenous people weren’t big on meat and the idea of Mexicans and a plant-based lifestyle isn’t as far-fetched as people tend to think. 

“Our ancestors weren’t vegan by any means but they weren’t consuming animals that much,” Ornelas explained “They just weren’t eating (meat) like people do today and they certainly weren’t doing dairy until…Columbus, who brought the cows and the goats over.” 

Indigenous people weren’t exactly vegan, but a lot of what they ate would’ve been beans, corn and a whole lot of plants. 

Veganism and culture is still a complicated thing with many parts to it. Ornelas and her sites are trying to make the parts into smaller bite-sized pieces for people to understand. While the sites were created to share recipes for vegan Mexican food, they also share information on systematic food barriers, farm worker issues and more problems connected to veganism.

“We work to show that these issues are connected. The food system harms many and so our work is trying to get people to make these connections, and also to use their food choices as a way to create change,” Ornelas said. 

Now, she hopes that Vegan Mexican Food can be her way of giving back to the community she loves so much. She hopes to change the fact that many Latinx people suffer from diabetes, high blood pressure and other health issues. 

“It’s one thing we can give back to our families, right?” Ornelas said. “I mean, to be able to give these recipes that are actually healthier for them, so that we can lessen the diabetes rates and heart attacks.”

La Vegetariana 

In her four years of being a vegetarian in a Mexican household, Stephanie Nunez, a biochemistry sophomore, has had to learn a thing or two. 

For example, she’s learned that with the right seasoning and a good amount of patience, mushrooms can taste pretty darn good in enchiladas.

“Quite honestly, with mushrooms, if you season them really well you can try and get them to taste like meat,” Nunez said.

She’s also learned that while her Mexican, mean looking, mustache havin’ dad may look like a tough guy, his search history exposed his soft spot for Pinterest feeds and Youtube videos of old white women cooking vegetarian food. 

“My dad’s a mechanic and has a mustache and it’s so funny to see him on Pinterest.” Nunez said. “He got really excited, because the other day on YouTube he found this Mexican woman who does vegan recipes and vegetarian recipes. But sometimes he’ll be watching these, like old little white ladies on Youtube and he’ll be taking notes.” 

She’s learned how to overcome a lot over the years, like all the jokes from her brother about being a bunny and the speculation from family members about it.

“The conversation would go the exact same way, I would tell them, ‘Oh, I don’t eat meat anymore’ and they’d be like, “Why? Because of the animals?’’ Nuez said. “And then I’d be like, ‘Well, I guess, but also just makes me feel really sick so I just decided to stop eating it,’  and then they’d be ‘That’s really weird, but like, why?’ and we just kind of continue that way.”

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

However, one of the hardest parts of her journey wasn’t learning how to tackle mushrooms. She said the hardest part was learning how to find new ways to connect in her culture’s love language.  

In Mexican culture, food is a type of love language. For me, every time I come home from college, my mom always serves me more than I can chew just to remind me that she loves me more than I’d ever know. For many other Mexicans, it’s not uncommon for an “I love you” to be disguised as a “Let me make you some food.”

For Nunez, it was hard to gauge how that love language would change, especially when she wasn’t able to eat a lot of the foods that conveyed love.  

Nunez remembers the times she was sick and the only thing that would make her feel better wasn’t any type of medicine. It was her mother’s caldo, a soup made with chicken. Being vegetarian meant letting go of food with meat in it, but for Nunez, it also meant letting go of the memories and love that went with it.

“My dad and my mom would make it for me if I was feeling sick, or if it was cold, or if I had a tough day, like, my family would make it for me because it was my favorite,” Nunez said. “And there’s really no substitute for that so it’s kind of hard to let go of dishes like that.” 

While Nunez said food has always been a big deal in her culture, the ability to cook for loved ones is an essential part of the Mexican love language, mentioning how her grandma’s recipe books serve 12 people for that reason.   

“That’s just so beautiful to me,” Nunez said. “It’s like you’re anticipating that you’re going to be taking care of that many people and you’re wanting to feed that many people and it’s just, I think food is really important in Mexican culture.” 

Before she was able to find recipes with her dad, Nunez said her mom had a hard time cooking for her, making it a little tricky to express love through food. 

“My grandma, my mom would get kind of stressed out about it (and say) ‘Well, what am I going to cook for you?’’ Nunez said.  

Despite this, Nunez said the challenges helped her family realize that cooking is simply better together and that maybe an “I love you” can also be translated to “Let’s make dinner.” 

Although they haven’t quite perfected mushroom tacos and they’re still dabbling with tofu tacos, Nunez said the effort is what matters most. 

“It just means a lot to me to have my parents supportive about it,” Nunez said.  “It’s really touching that they care so much about me that they’re willing to learn a lot of new things that were foreign.” 

Food continues to be a love language for Nunez and her family. It just looks more green and less lean. 

“We’ve been able to create kinds of new foods that have helped me still connect to my family like they’re still Mexican food,” Nunez said. “I don’t feel like I’m severed from my culture. I still feel connected to my family and my culture through the food.” 

THE EXECUTION

Tacos and traditions look a little different at Sergio Tamez’s food truck. Sure, food lovers can order the usual kind of tacos — sizzling carne asada tacos, fiery fajita tacos and even crunchy chicharones. 

But, inside the tacos, is anything but traditional. Every option on Nissi Vegan Mexican Cusine’s menu is completely plant-based. The “meat” is a soy protein Tamez makes homemade—even their queso is vegan.

https://www.instagram.com/p/COQnLcAl9zU/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link

In a culture where sometimes an “I love you” is said through a home cooked meal, Tamez understands the impact traditional Mexican food can have on people’s lives. He said it’s part of the reason why he and his wife opened up their food truck. 

When him and his wife moved from Dallas to Austin and started their vegan journey, they couldn’t find any food that checked all three boxes — good, vegan AND authentic. 

“We started going vegan and we had a hard time finding places that were authentic, or, you know, something that was something that we liked,” Tamez said. We kind of are picky eaters.” 

Inspired by their family’s cooking and their own passion for it, Tamez and his wife took matters into their own hands and started the food truck in 2018. 

“Cooking was always a hobby so I have my own recipe book, my wife has her own recipe book and we just combine things,” Tamez said. “For example al pastor, that’s her recipe. Carne asada, it’s my recipe. The red salsa is her recipe, the green salsa, it’s mine. So it’s a combination. It’s like a team.”

While the business has been up and running for a couple of years now, the journey was not easy. A lot of their now popular recipes were the results of hundreds of failed experiments and a whole lot of teamwork. 

“You eventually will throw out a lot of food because, (you’ll be) like, ‘Oh, man. I cannot eat this,’’’ Tamez said. “It was like, months, months of trying to and lots of money. Lots of it was a big investment.”

However, once they did get their recipes right, they loved sharing their creations with Austinites.

“I was thinking more on the pleasure of eating, not just eating bland food,” Tamez said.  “I thought about it more by providing a more delicious, or a better tasting food.”

Still, Tamez understands why Latinx people are skeptical when they see things like birria tacos, tacos made out of goat meat, with no actual meat on his menu. He was even a skeptic himself. Tamez said when his cousin became a vegan he didn’t understand why until he started to transition to a vegan lifestyle himself. 

“He went all the way to veganism and then, at some point, I was like, ‘Man, something’s wrong with your head!’’ Tamez said. “But then we watched several documentaries on Netflix. He made me look a little bit deeper and then we decided to start transitioning. It was a long transition but we finally became vegan.”

While he knows the conversation surrounding veganism and Mexican culture isn’t going to change overnight, he hopes that places like Nissi can start to change minds, hearts and feed families for generations to come. 

“A lot of people get discouraged when they see the vegan word,” Tamez said. “But when they try it out and they’re like okay! You know, they really enjoy it.” 

Featured image courtesy of Kara Fields