Ah, life at the big U. Freshman year and fresh into vegan eating 101. Hopefully, you’ve had a little experience banging pots in the kitchen, choosing produce in the supermarket (or, better yet, farmer’s market) and dealing with limited options. The first year in college can put vegan eaters before the bells of dorm room microwaves and in the hands of meal-plan chefs, so it’s good to get to know the ropes before you’re up against them.
- Unless you are at a very animal-friendly school, the meal plans will likely have few vegan options, with an emphasis on salad bar. The occasional veggie burger will crop up, and there will be some things to choose from; however, it’s not a vegan world just yet.
- This doesn’t have to mean you go rabbit. Make sure to add some stuff to keep things balanced. Look for different nuts, beans, proteins and fats to keep that salad interesting. Also, lettuce doesn’t have to be the key ingredient all the time. Take advantage of the other stuff, funking up burgers and dressing plan pasta.
- And, don’t be afraid to talk to the kitchen staff for some help. A friendly approach will likely get a friendly response. It’s not unheard of to befriend people, get to know them a little better and, in turn, be treated a little differently. That’s life. Sometimes a smile makes a big difference to your belly.
- Snacks can also make a big difference. While that kitchen staff may be looking out for you, or at the very least supplying some sustenance, it doesn’t mean the snack machines will. Remember to keep something to nibble in your bag, preferably with some of the nutrients you know you might need.
- Learn what nutrients you need. You’ll have to watch out for yourself a bit more now, and as a vegan, that means learning the ins and outs of what vitamins and minerals we have to have and making an effort to get them. Here’s a little guide to help with that.
- Cook the cheap and easy way when you have to. Vegan diets, when not centered around faux meats and vegan specialties items, are quite cheap. Incredibly so, actually. Get yourself a few easy recipes going, try from scratch, and expand your repertoire.
- But, be prepared for doing it without an oven or stove, as most dorms don’t allow portable cooking devices, save for microwaves and mini-fridges. Still, it is possible to make a lot stuff—rice, pasta, steamed veggies, couscous, etc.—in the microwave (or go for an electric kettle if you can), and there are always raw recipes.
- Find some friends to share the vegan experience with. If there is one thing colleges are full of, it’s people with strong opinions, some of which will be the same as yours. Reach out and make a connection when you see that opportunity because…
- …not everyone is going to agree with, respect or like what that you are a plant-based eater. Another thing colleges have are people from all walks of life. There will be dairy farmers, lifelong hunters, apathetic loungers and all manner of unsavory characters (maybe just call them people). Share your ideas but realize they won’t change everyone’s mind.
- Over-reaching and preaching can be a friend deterrent. Generally, we grow up with the people we are in high school with, and they accept us with all our warts and dietary issues. For others, it may come off as too overbearing. In this humble graduates opinion, the best way to promote veganism is to do it well yourself. People will see it and ask about it when they are ready.
More or less, though, being a vegan in college is great. It’s cheaper. Folks dig folks who are doing something meaningful, and regardless of what your primary motivation is, vegan eating is meaningful in many, many ways. It will likely be a much more accepting environment than you are accustomed to, and there will likely be a lot more folks around on the same wavelength. High schools are small worlds, offices are even smaller, but colleges are usually full of wide-open spaces. So, get to grazing.
Image source: VIC CVUT / Wikimedia Commons