College is the perfect time and place to study hard, meet lifelong friends, and become exposed to a wide range of ideas and lifestyles, so it's not a surprise that many students decide to go vegan or vegetarian during this time. The underlying motivations for choosing a plant-based diet may vary from person to person, but the majority of vegans will face certain common problems at one point or another. I have been vegan for around nine years and a vegetarian since birth (so I've gone through pretty much every dilemma a vegan could face) and I've found that being a vegan at college is just like being vegan anywhere else; it doesn't have to be difficult -- here's how!
The biggest concern about being vegan at college is of course "what the heck do I eat?" While other students are worrying about gaining the "freshman 15" due to the high availability of unhealthy food, buffet-style layouts, and lack of proper nutritional knowledge, some vegans may be wondering if they'll be able to eat anything other than salad. The ease of being a vegan is highly dependent on where you go to school, so check out PETA's college ranking list to learn about the availability and quality of the vegan options at your school. If your school ranks high on this list, fantastic! However, if you happen to be going to a school with lackluster options, I've got you covered too.
When you come to college, you can contact a campus nutritionist to talk about your dietary needs. Nutritionists are there to help you eat in a nutritious and healthy manner, so take advantage of this resource! With their help, try to identify what foods are vegan friendly, design a vegan meal plan, learn about possible nutritional deficiencies, and get in contact with a dining manager. You may still be able to practice veganism in the dining halls if you talk to a manager who is willing to work with your dietary needs, and you can even advocate for more vegan options as well.
Snacks will be your friend even if you're not vegan, but they are especially helpful if you're not fully satisfied with the food you're eating in the dining halls. Eating throughout the day will keep your blood glucose levels up so that you can study and stay energized. Some of my personal favorites are granola, energy bars, pretzels, dried fruit, hummus with veggies, and fresh fruit.
Most college students don't have the time or energy to cook, but you may find yourself needing to cook at some point. Making your own food as a vegan is a smart idea because if you are not completely dependent on the dining halls to feed you, you will have more freedom in choosing what you want to eat, and cooking for yourself can be a cheaper alternative to a meal plan. If you do have -- or want -- to cook, take a look at the vegan cookbooks and blogs that are out there; these are great resources for recipe inspiration! Some suggestions for good books includeThug Kitchen, Vegan with a Vengeance, Oh She Glows, and Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar to satisfy your sweet tooth. If smartphones are more of your thing, some helpful apps include HappyCow ($2.99) for identifying vegan-friendly restaurants, Is It Vegan? (Free), and 21-Day Vegan Kickstart (Free) for a 21-day vegan meal plan.
The fast-paced nature of college can be stressful, but being vegan doesn't have to be part of that stress! It will be okay if you can't maintain a strict vegan diet at all times; slipups happen, life happens. Veganism doesn't have to follow an all-or-nothing path; every little bit counts in terms of ethics, health, and sustainability. In the next installment I'll talk about the social aspects of being vegan, along with activism and dating, but for now stay warm and stay vegan!