Sustaining a Vegan Lifestyle in College

Being a vegan is challenging, especially in college. Eating right in college is hard. There. I said it. The Freshman 15 is no joke -between the overabundance of caf food and the lack of supervision of your diet, you’re kind of screwed. The weight gain happens again if/when you move off campus and you are given free reign of the grocery store. It’s hard to know what you should eat, how much you should eat, or when you should eat it.

As a vegetarian, I had a hard time finding food on campus. I had multiple run ins with food poisoning due to poor labeling in the cafeteria, and I was getting tired of getting a salad wrap every day for lunch at the Lane Center. The food was a big reason why I moved off campus. Then, in November of my junior year, I decided to make the jump to veganism.

It was hard at first. I learned a ridiculous number of variations I could make to ramen. After realizing that I was ingesting about 400% of my recommended daily value of salt, I decided to plop down and get to Googling.

I found all the things I had learned in grade school—eight cups of water, five to seven servings of fruits and vegetables, and two to three servings of protein a day—but I was amazed to find some other things I would need to eat as a vegan. I found out I would need to beef up (or tofu up) on my vitamin d and zinc intakes. Vegans also don’t get a lot of a few nutritional components that are traditionally found in animal products such as calcium and omega threes.

While these are typically found in meat products, vegans can get all of the necessary nutrients from plant-based substances. And yes, that includes protein. 100 calories of steak contains a little over five grams of protein while 100 calories of broccoli contains 11.2.

That being said, here in Frostburg, the cup doesn’t exactly runneth over with vegan options. Trust me; I’ve been in small towns before. My hometown in Nebraska had veggie burgers in the “ethnic” section of the grocery store. Frostburg isn’t nearly that bad, but Appalachia seems to be a strictly “meat and potatoes” kind of place. However, I’ve made due. I can find something to eat at nearly any restaurant I go to, and I’m not limited to salads at most establishments. Ethnic food locations are generally best at accommodating for my needs. Places like Zen Shi or any of the various Chinese restaurants have already vegan items on the menus.

Pro tip for any vegans or vegetarians out there: bean-curd at Chinese restaurants is tofu, and it is almost always prepared deliciously. It’s a great alternative to your typical order of orange chicken on those days that you really just need take out.

Another surprising locale for delicious vegan food lies in any Mexican restaurant. Nearly any dish on a Mexican restaurant can be vegan-ized by substituting beans for meat and making sure there will be no cheese or sour cream on your plate. Now, I have always loved Mexican food. When I was still a traditional lacto-ovo vegetarian, I would order what was, essentially, a mountain of cheese with some tortillas thrown in there somewhere. After becoming a vegan, I realized that I had been missing out on a lot of the spices and flavors of Mexican food because I had been drowning the flavors in an unhealthy amount of queso.

In Frostburg, we herbivores have these options, but the crowning jewel of vegan dining in this small town is Shift. The organic farm-to-table restaurant is nestled in to a small, colorful building on Broadway Street.

Once you enter the door under the brightly colored bicycle, you are enveloped in this small, cozy, yet incredibly open restaurant. The tables are set with various sized mason jars to be filled with water from large glass water bottles that are placed at each table. Once you sit, your waitress will come over and light your candles and ask you if you’d like anything to drink.

Looking down at the menu, I was amazed. Nearly every appetizer, soup, salad, and shared plate was vegan—save for the cheese plates. As for entrees, I had the option to make every sandwich vegan, and they make a vegan risotto which, I learned, was to die for.

shift risotto

Now, I’m not used to having so many options. While I CAN make things at Mexican restaurants vegan, I tend to stick to what I know is easy to veganize. I can eat most vegetable sushi, but it is still basically the same meal, and there are only so many bean curd options at the local Chinese restaurant. In preparation for my outing to Shift, I looked at the menu. Only one thing specifically said that it was vegan, so I had my heart set on that risotto. I dreamed about that risotto. I don’t think I’ve ever been more excited to eat rice for a meal before. However, once we got there, the waitress explained all of my options, and I began to hyperventilate. I could eat dinner at Shift every day for 11 days straight and not have to order the same thing. Granted, I would go broke and gain about 20 pounds, but I have that option.

Veganism is a challenge, sure. I still find myself staring longingly at the greasy cheese pizza sitting on hot plates in the Lane Center. I still fantasize about mozzarella sticks on occasion. Being in a place where I can’t easily acquire vegan alternatives to dairy products makes it a bit harder, but now that I know that Shift will be there for me if I want to try something new, my faith in veganism is revived.

Anyone can be a vegan. Whether it be for health or ethical reasons, it is doable. For me, it was both. Focusing on what you’re eating and making sure you are getting all the right nutrients is important regardless of the content of your diet, but veganism forces you to take care of yourself. Three months after going vegan, I had lost upwards of 20 pounds, just because I stopped eating junk.

There are countless resources available for new vegans, including what helped me the most, meal plans. They tell you what groceries to buy and detailed instructions on how to cook it. Before becoming a vegan, I had burnt water before. I had a few standard recipes that I could make, and make well. I was a pro at veggie tacos and spaghetti, but that was about it. After becoming a vegan, I have learned to cook various types of squash, expanded my pallet, and gotten over my fear of the oven.

Veganism has helped me become healthier, more self-aware, and a better cook. Even if it’s not to veganism, taking a step outside of your comfortable food lifestyle can drastically improve your experience.

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