Our first guest post! I’m so excited, and I can’t think of a better contributor to kick off the series. Sara is a long-time Bonzai reader and she and I have been trading emails for ages, as she made the transition from omni to vegan while still in high school and living at home. No easy feat! But Sara is dedicated and wicked sharp, so she educated herself and then educated her parents to quell their fears. As a senior in high school Sara worked on the yearbook committee, and managed to sneak a full page “Go Vegan!” ad into the yearbook! Ha! Obviously, she’s a pretty awesome lady.
Sara has since left home for art school, and here she shares her unique insight on remaining vegan at university. I’m so pleased to have Sara as Bonzai guest blogger. I’m sure you’ll enjoy reading her article as much as I did!
So first thing’s first: Good for you! You’ve chosen to be vegan and you’re choosing to educate yourself in something you love. Being vegan in university can seem daunting, but it really isn’t. Whether you live in a dorm or by yourself, veganism is healthy, quick, and cheap. And trust me, after eating a lot of Cup-O-Noodles, those three words are something you’ll look forward to.
First, we’ll look at the eating part of being vegan. And that means we need to do some research. Look up your college/university and see what options they give you. Some of the common accommodations are traditional dorms, where you’re served meals, and dorms with a prepaid card to purchase food. You may opt for apartment-style dorms, where you have access to a kitchen to cook your own meals, or you may want to live in an apartment (more on that later).
When it comes to traditional dorms that serve your meals, there are often vegetarian options – but not always vegan ones. Check your university’s website to find out more about the food they offer in traditional-style dorms, because you may be in luck! However, in many cases, a lot of the food received by the kitchen is already precooked, half cooked, or stocks, soup bases, and sauces are given to the kitchen to reduce prep time. Therefore, a lot of the time, the cooks won’t even know all the ingredients in the food. Your institution may have a website detailing the meal plan (with ingredients) for the week, in which case you’re in luck. But if you find that everything has animal products except for the lettuce, then you end up in a bit of a jam. In my personal opinion, traditional dorms are not the way to go if you’re vegan.
I know what you’re thinking, “But I can’t cook! Does this mean I need to cook!? I am going to starve to death and never get my degree!” Well, first of all, you’re not going to starve. A lot of universities offer a prepaid card system, where you have a card loaded with money each semester; you pick food from the cafeteria and pay using the card. This is beneficial because you’re not paying for meals you don’t eat, and if you’re unsure about the ingredients of a certain item, you’ll have other options. But again, we come across the problem of not enough options available for you to fill your nutritional needs. Here’s where that scary word comes in, cooking. I know a lot of friends who tell me they don’t have the first clue on how to boil pasta, never mind the other stuff. But don’t despair! You can make it easy on yourself by doing a few key things.
First of all, keep a minifridge and a microwave. Some dishes, utensils and even a glass or two would also be nice. Keep your minifridge stocked with alternative milk for your coffee (bless you if you don’t need that yet), vegan margarine (most margarines contain milk products, such as casein) fresh fruits and veggies to munch on, and plenty of good for you snacks, like granola or nuts. These things also happen to be quite portable if you want to bring them around campus. I also recommend bringing a travel mug for your coffee, that way, you can add alt milk to the mug and then go get your coffee elsewhere.
And when it comes to cooking, you can seriously make a zillion things with your microwave. There are books dedicated entirely to vegan microwave and vegan college cooking, and you should definitely check them out (1. 2. 3. and of course Veganomicon). A quick Internet search will also get you millions of hits for “vegan microwave cooking”. You should also be sure to take a multivitamin to fill in the gaps, especially for vitamins like B12, which are hard to come by in vegan foods.
And now for a touchy subject: pre-packaged foods. I’m going to be blunt and say that they’re not a good choice. First of all, a lot of vegan pre-packaged food, especially fake meat, is really pricy. Second, they are full of preservatives and loads of sodium. I know that some of it is fortified with vitamins, but you can get those vitamins elsewhere. That’s not to say that you should never buy Cup-O-Noodles or fake chicken strips again, but they are treats and shouldn’t be your staples.
When it comes to protein, you can easily get it through seeds, nuts, and beans. Chickpeas, for example, are both delicious and super high in practically everything you need to be vegan. And hello, hummus? That stuff was made for campus living. You can eat it with anything, spread it on anything; I could go on forever! Tofu is an easy option, as well as seitan (though it may be hard to find) and tempeh (though it can be a bit bitter – boiling helps to get rid of this). Textured vegetable protein, or TVP, is another awesome alternative to meat. I have a lot of omni friends who eat it instead of meat because it’s so much cheaper! It’s also so easy to prepare; all it requires is a soak in hot water and then you can add it to any meal. It makes a great stand-in for ground beef, so it’s perfect for pasta, chili, and tacos. All of these options are great for you and your wallet. And most of them are available at bulk food stores, which makes them an even better financial option.
Sara Howie is a graphic design student attending OCADU in Toronto, Canada. She’s lived in an apartment since moving out and managed not to starve to death! She likes alternative rock concerts, photography, cooking, and playing the ukulele. You can ask her questions at sara.and.company at gmail dot com, or catch up with her on her website, sara-and-company.tumblr.com.