Now that you’re in college, you hold the reigns, especially when it comes to your diet. Want to know how to be a vegan in college? This can be easy, or tricky, depending on your approach.
Vegan living is on the rise, and many people begin their vegan journey in college. In a 2008 survey conducted by Vegetarian Times, 42% of America’s vegetarians are between the ages of 18-34 years old, suggesting that vegans might fall into these age-figures as well.
Just so we’re clear, a “vegetarian” is a person who does not eat animal flesh. A “vegan” does not eat any animal product or by-product, including milk and eggs.
Before We Talk of How to Be Vegan in College, Let’s First Talk About Why.
Most college vegans choose the vegan life-style for the general health and well-being that the vegan diet offers. Other college students chose to be a vegan for environmental concerns, for warding off disease and cancer, for food safety, ethical issues of animal treatment, and/or weight loss. And, although this is just speculation, some college students might choose the vegan lifestyle to be hip and edgy, feeling confident in a unique vegan-identity. Whatever the case, the reasons for choosing a vegan lifestyle are often varied. So let’s move on to the best approach.
College is a Great Time to Start, But Being a Vegan in College Involves a Transition Period.
If you’ve never eaten vegan before, it’s wise to approach this vegan transition slowly in college. Many diets begin with a “detox” period, because often our bodies have become dependent on habitual eating habits. Before any swift changes, first sit down and determine your vegan goals.
Are you striving to simply get healthy in college? Well then, if you’ve been living on Hostess cupcakes and beef jerkey, simply avoiding the jerkey won’t help you with your goal. Are you striving to lose weight in college? Eating Ramen Noodles with veggie broth won’t do the trick either. You can’t assume that simply avoiding meat and dairy will create a magical transformation.
Author Harvey Diamond suggests that, since our bodies are 70% water, we should be eating according to that ratio as well. He says, “Since our bodies are 70 percent water, we should be eating a diet that is approximately 70 percent water content, and that means fruits and vegetables should PREDOMINATE in our diets. The other 30 percent will consist of the concentrated foods: breads, grains, meat, dairy products, legumes, and so on,” (Fit for Life, pg. 29).
I would suggest that, before taking anything out of your diet, you should first work to readjust your ratio of water-foods to concentrated-foods. Spend the first half of a college semester working to fill three quarters of your plate with salad and steamed veggies. (Skip the fries!) While adjusting to this change, your body will likely go through feelings of “detox,” which may feel unpleasant at first. But after the adjustment phase, your body will ready to tackle the next step: going vegan.
How to Be a Vegan in College? Planning, Planning, Planning.
I can’t say it enough. Now that you’re eating vegan, apart from the main-stream, you have to think ahead. No longer can you just hit the vending machines (which isn’t healthy for anyone). You must have proper food on hand, either stocked in your fridge, pre-packaged, or scoped out from the snack bar or dining hall. This can be tricky if you’re living in a small college dorm-room with no kitchen near-by.
Don’t go overboard. Planning every meal can get tiring. You can take steps to research restaurant menus online or call ahead. But at least have back up food in your dorm room. If no options are available when eating out, you can simply order a salad and then return to your room for something more.
Here’s a trick. Whenever you leave the college campus, shop for fresh fruits and veggies. Each evening, clear a corner of your desk and cut up snack-sized pieces. In zip-lock bags, store a meal-sized portion of cut veggies and greens (spinach). Now you have 70% of tomorrow’s vegan meals ready to go. You can use this to pair with a bran muffin, create a vegan veggie-sandwich with bread from the dining hall, or enhance a serving of vegan tomato-based pasta.
Here are some great vegan items to have on hand in your college dorm-room fridge: fresh fruits and veggies, dried fruits, hummus, whole wheat tortilla wraps, raw nuts, minute rice, instant oatmeal , rye crackers, and almond milk (or soy or rice milk).
How to be a Vegan in College? Keep Your Budget Simple.
Sadly, many college students assume that going vegan means stocking up on meat-replacement products like tofu dogs and veggie burgers. But, not only are these products highly processed (which begs to question their health-benefits), they are also very high in cost.
Instead, focus on enhancing your starch choices. Instead of choosing processed starches like breads or pastas, branch out to plant-based carbs like potatoes, eggplant, corn, rutabaga, and turnip. (And beans are another great carb/protein food.) You might be surprised to find that these plant-carbs are much cheaper than processed-carbs.
How to be a Vegan in College? Be Aware of Your Vitamins and Nutrients.
Most doctors will caution you when you take the step toward a vegan diet. Most nutritionists worry that you might grow deficient in protein, calcium, and vitamin B12. My doctor suggested taking a calcium supplement and a vegetarian multi-vitamin. Now, before you roll your eyes at the doctors, let’s step back and consider this: the vegan diet can be lacking in proper nutrients if you are not careful. Some people find themselves malnourished if they’ve never taken the time to evaluate the balance of their diet.
Since you’ve made the personal choice to go vegan, take the responsibility of your nutrition seriously, and check your balances often. Occasionally, log your food-choices into nutritiondata.com or caloriecount.com to see how your percentages line up. Use these tools to research your common foods and see how they compare to others in their same category.
For example, compare a sweet potato to a russet potato (baked, with the skin on). Notice the difference in protein content. Notice the difference in vitamin A. Notice the difference in fiber. If the russet is always your potato of choice, a comparison like this might encourage you to change it up with a sweet potato more often.
You have the reigns to your health, so take that responsibility seriously.
How to Be a Vegan in College? Find Social Support.
Let’s face it: It’s hard to keep up a habit when we’re going it alone. See if you can find a college friend who might try this vegan eating for a meal or two. Or, if you have the means, invite a few friends over for some tasty vegan treats.
We don’t ever want to convey pride or judgment through our lifestyle, especially to our fellow college peers. Rather, we can simply offer others the experience to try something new and learn about what interests us.
Ultimately, it Takes Planning, Budgeting, Responsibility, and Social Support to Keep Up a Vegan Lifestyle in College.
For the college students who have come to the conclusion that vegan eating is the way to go, the steadfast discipline is worth it. Feeling healthy, alive, and full of energy will not only boost your studies, but it will set the stage for a bright future beyond graduation.