How to be a vegan college student.
In my second year of college, I stumbled on a YouTube video about an alternative lifestyle in which you do not consume, exploit, or use animal products. Growing up in Kansas in an agricultural family, this seemed like something unattainable. However, through extensive research, a lot of mistakes, and talking to others in my community, I was able to make the switch to a vegan lifestyle. If you are considering limiting animal products in your life, here are some helpful tips for you to get started and stick to your new lifestyle.
FIND YOUR REASON WHY
Many college students turn to a vegan lifestyle for reasons such as health, activism, and animal ethics.
Veganism is claimed by some as a cure-all. However, a vegan diet can encourage folks to eat more nutrient-dense food, lower cholesterol, and allow for the opportunity to think about what they are eating. If this is your reason why you are looking to improve your health, veganism can be the right lifestyle choice for you. Make sure this decision isn’t based on strictly losing weight.
teach students how to make small choices to decrease their carbon footprint. Farm animals are one of the biggest producers of methane gas, which is a major contributor to ozone-depletion ultimately leading to global warming. Eliminating a market for the over-production of farm animals can decrease the amount of methane being produced. Vegetables are not completely environment-friendly either, however, if there is a higher demand for them, hydroponic farming can be more widely used in order to make produce more sustainable. If this is your reason why eating/buying locally and seasonally is also a wonderful way to decrease food transportation environmental cost right now. Bringing your own reusable cup and shopping and produce bags, as well as refusing straws and making homemade food when possible, are all ways to decrease your environmental footprint.
Vegan clubs also bring to light problems with factory farming and animal ethics. The commercialized Meat is Murder is something that truly branded the whole vegan community since the 1980s. Watching slaughterhouse footage and vegan documentaries can be jarring and it can be tempting to share this information with anyone and everyone you meet. If this is your reason why you decide to adopt a vegan lifestyle, refrain from vividly depicting these gruesome scenes on deaf ears. The most effective way to spread veganism is by being the best role model you can be by not consuming animal products yourself.
YOU’RE ALLOWED TO BE LESS THAN PERFECT
EVEN ONE VEGAN OR PLANT-BASED DECISION A DAY CAN MAKE A REAL DIFFERENCE.
Most people don't go vegan overnight like the movies and testimonials may claim. This is a lifestyle shift that takes time and dedication. Right now, you may deposit food into your body three (or more) times every day. You may be thinking about where to go to lunch, what you packed as meals for the day, or texting your roommate about what to make or buy for dinner. So when thinking about going vegan, there are quite a few decisions that will be altered.
When presented with a meat or meatless option, simply choosing the meatless one occasionally makes a difference. Just because the idea of being 100% vegan is scary and overwhelming doesn’t mean you can’t make one or two impactful choices. Suggesting Meatless Mondays to your roommates can make for a fun, new experience of preparing a new type of cuisine. When looking for a recipe to try, start easy -- a vegan chili (a normal chili just without meat), a stir fry with green beans, or even chicken fingers and fries from a meatless meat company such as Gardein. Forks Over Knives is a book and an app that provides thousands of completely vegan recipes with a wide variety of skill levels and types of cuisine.
STEP OUT OF YOUR COMFORT ZONE - EAT AN IMPOSSIBLE BURGER AND DAIRY-FREE ICE CREAM
In this day and age, veganism does not have to be dry salads and mealy veggie burgers. Allow yourself to have an Impossible Burger, a very tasty, meat-like veggie burger, and dairy-free ice cream with your classmates after a hard week of exams! If you have access, try vegan/vegetarian restaurants or grocery items! Have a dinner party for your non-vegan friends to expand their pallets as well. The worst possible scenario is you just don’t like what you ordered!
Roughly keeping track of your macronutrients is a great way to make sure you are staying healthy in your first few months of being vegan. Trust me -- soon it’ll be second nature. As a vegan, I am asked “Where do you get your protein?” as often as “What is your name?” As someone who has not been exposed to vegan culture, I don’t blame anyone for asking and I am more than happy to talk to them about plant-based sources of protein: beans, tofu, tempeh, meatless meat products, and grains! As a human, your body can only use about 15 grams of protein per sitting; the rest is excreted. When a company offers a protein powder with 50 grams of protein per scoop, that is great and all, but about 35 grams of that protein is now living the rest of its life in your local sewer system. For example, a typical meal as a college student could consist of about 1/2 cup of cooked black beans, 1/2 of cooked quinoa, 1/2 an avocado, and some sort of roasted vegetables on a bed of raw spinach. This equates to roughly 15 grams of protein. Sub 4 oz of skinless chicken breast and this meal explodes to roughly 40 grams of protein. However, not all of this protein is used by the body thus rendering it useless.
Carbohydrates have been demonized by the media and recent culture; however, carbs in moderation are nothing to be ashamed of. Some of the healthiest foods are high in carbohydrates and provide us with a burst of energy that gets us through the afternoon slump. It is easy to overdo it with carbohydrates on a vegan diet because some of the tastiest foods are extremely high in carbohydrates. If you make sure to pair the carbohydrates with protein, the benefits of the carbohydrates become more bioavailable to your body. As a result, you feel fuller longer and are not worried about how many hours it is socially acceptable to eat dinner.
Fat is another thing that, until recently, has been demonized by the media. Making sure the fat you are consuming is more unsaturated than saturated and avoiding trans fats all together can help sustain a more healthy vegan diet. B-12 is truly the only supplement that is completely necessary in order to sustain a healthy vegan diet.
A B-12 deficiency can lead to dizziness, fatigue, haziness, and ultimately, nerve damage. I personally have integrated a multivitamin which includes B-12 into my morning routine. This is a more affordable alternative to B-12 drops marketed to vegans.
IF YOU SLIP UP, YOU’RE STILL VEGAN. IT’S OKAY.
As the great Hannah Montana once said, “Everyone makes mistakes!” Being vegan is making choices to fulfill your reason why. If you accidentally order fried rice with oyster sauce in it or buy a purse on Amazon with hidden leather details, it’s OKAY. At the end of the day, it is a journey and every so-called mistake is a lesson.
FIND YOUR PEOPLE
VEGAN/VEGETARIAN POP-UP FESTIVALS
Sometimes being the only vegan/vegetarian in a friend group can be hard, or being the only person who doesn't eat meat at a family gathering can feel isolating. However, finding your people is so important. Some of my most favorite people I have met who share my same values have been at pop-up festivals. I personally live in the midwest where festivals are few and far between. VegFest happens in bigger cities and is a way for plant-based folks to share their values and tasty food. The people at VegFest Kansas City, Omaha, Wichita, and Austin have treated me wonderfully.
Luckily, I attend a university that is very vegan/vegetarian-friendly even though it happens to be in the middle of Kansas. I am a member of the KU Vegan Club. They hold food-related events as well as activism-related events. For me, personally, I attend more of the food-related events because that is what I identify with more and that is okay. You are able to go to as many or as few as you please. There are several Facebook groups that share recipes, memes, and the newest restaurants/food trucks in your local area. It is incredibly reassuring after a hard conversation or after going to an event and being questioned about your diet for the entirety of dinner to go into a Facebook group and just read other people's posts and realize you're not the only one that holds these shared values.
YouTube is actually where I got my start in veganism. There are hundreds of channels ranging from educational to outrageous about veganism. I personally would steer clear of some of the more outlandish channels like ones that focus on a fully raw or fruitarian based diet. These diets are unsustainable and a lot of the values these creators hold are inhibiting those of us trying to promote sustainable vegan diets.
Channels like Mic the Vegan and Unnatural Vegan are great for debunking myths about headlines the media throws around about vegan culture. Pick Up Limes and Madeleine Olivia can provide inspiration for accessible and well-balanced recipes.
RECOGNIZE THE PRIVILEGE OF A VEGAN LIFESTYLE
Being vegan is 100% a privilege. If you live in a food desert or your only food options are not vegan, by all means, eat whatever food is available to you. Understanding that not everyone is able to have an idealistic diet is really important. Veganism can be as expensive or as cheap as you make it. However, if there is not any money for food and you are going to a soup kitchen to eat your one meal of the day, more likely than not, there aren’t going to be vegan options, and that is okay. Shaming other people for not making vegan choices when their options are starving or eating what's available does not promote an inclusive vegan community.
In college, the priority is to learn and have an education. If the ability to be vegan is not yet a possibility, let it be a goal. As mentioned before, eliminating meat or animal products from one or two meals can still be an instrument change. The power is in numbers. If one person is completely vegan, it is not nearly as influential as all twenty people from your class practicing Meatless Mondays or even all two-hundred girls in your sorority choosing to attend a vegan pop-up festival together.
SO YOU’RE INTERESTED IN ADOPTING VEGANISM - NOW WHAT?
At the end of the day, people can put whatever they like into their bodies, and telling them what they can and can’t consume is not going to ultimately change their behavior. Helping others understand what veganism is, and how it can manifest in different forms, is the best way to ignite change. Making one or two changes for yourself can make you feel better and also spark curiosity in those around you. Advocating for vegan burger alternatives or vegan cheese alternatives in your university’s cafeteria can be the first step to normalizing veganism and making it more accessible to a wider audience.
University of Kansas
Katie is a senior who is double-majoring in exercise science and psychology at the University of Kansas. Originally from Wichita, she loves exploring new cities and has traveled to eight of the top twenty most influential cities in the world so far. She loves cooking and finding the best vegan eats. You can usually find her in planning her next adventure, enjoying a concert with friends, or late-night studying at the library.
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