Our very first guest blogger, Sara Howie, continues from yesterday . . .
In my experience, the easiest way to stay vegan in university is by living on your own, or in apartment-style dorms. Again, don’t freak out! Preparing meals is fun and easy, and I find it relaxes me after doing a bunch of school work. I’ve found that living on my own, it’s really easy to eat a balanced diet. Actually, it’s a lot easier because I just don’t buy non-vegan items, so I’m not tempted by anything and I know everything in my fridge is ‘safe’ (that isn’t my roommate’s, anyways).
To start off, you need some equipment to cook with. Although you’ve probably seen food shows with cooks using crazy devices and gadgets, you don’t need any of those. In fact, all you really need is a pot, a frying pan, a wooden spoon and spatula, a chef’s knife (or similar), a paring knife, and a cutting board. Some bowls for prepped food and a baking tray would be nice, but you don’t need to be that fancy. Add to that some cutlery, plates and glasses, and viola! A kitchen is born. When it comes to cooking, there are hundreds of vegan cookbooks out there, and who knows how many vegan food blogs!? A great resource, especially if you’re a beginner cook, is Veganomicon. It’s pretty widely available where all fine books are sold.
Whether you cook all your food or most of it, the best way of keeping yourself healthy is routine. Trust me – it’s a lot easier to plan your meals in advance so you know what you need to buy. Maybe this kind of planning sounds mom-ish to you, but hey, it makes life a lot easier and a lot less stressful! Prepping food in advance is nice too, like washing/chopping your veggies before you put them in the fridge, or cooking extra for leftovers (next-day lunch or for the freezer). Check around your neighborhood, too. For example, my city of Toronto has a foodshare program. It’s a co-op where I pay in advance and get cheaper, local/organic fruits and veggies picked in their prime. I get the box from my school and I don’t need to go produce shopping! My school also offers a “campus cupboard”, where I can buy organic dried goods like grains, beans, and granola, as well as alternate milks, for a discounted price (plus it’s faster to shop on campus!). If your school doesn’t offer something similar, you could suggest it to your student union or even start up something yourself!
And now comes the tough part: eating out. It’s hard when your omni friends choose a steakhouse and all you can eat is french fries and head lettuce. Be sure to explain to your server what you can’t eat (and “vegan” doesn’t cut it, say “no dairy, no eggs, no meat, no fish”) Perhaps ask if the chef could prepare something off-menu for you. Remember, restaurants put items on their menu so they can cook them fast and efficiently, and you’re asking for the chef to prepare something specially, so be sure to thank the server and tip well. If you’re looking for veg-friendly restaurants check out happycow.net, which has listings from all over the world. Don’t be surprised if you get funny looks or if you get cheese on your pasta, but do be firm. Remember, you’re not being a jerk for saying you can’t eat it. But keep in mind that you live in a meat-eating world, and people just don’t think about veganism. Finally, you can always plan to eat before or after the meal, too.
Now that we have the eating part under control, it’s time to talk about the harder part of being vegan: the people around you.
When it comes to your peers, it’s fine to express your opinion, but be careful not to put anyone down in the process. If you start preaching to your roommate that you hardly know, implying they’re a terrible person for eating meat, then you’re not going to make a friend. Keep in mind that your roommate probably doesn’t know a lot of vegans and you’re setting the example for what a vegan is like. Guys especially may call you a “sissy” for not eating meat, but hey, you know that’s not true. Try not to argue back. Instead, say something lighthearted, like “Don’t you know chicks dig vegans?” Or make a little joke, like “Well don’t be surprised if I crush you from high atop my tower of moral superiority” (thank you Vegan Freaks!). Most of the time, people just want to get a rise out of you, and it’s pointless to argue back. People may have genuine questions that sound stupid to you, but you probably had those same questions not so long ago. And some people are just curious. If somebody seems defensive, something like “I like animals” is a much better response than “I refuse to take part in a society that enslaves animals and expects us to drink pus-filled secretions that you call milk.”
Your parents will probably be worried. First, remember that they’ve seen you in diapers and they’re going to be worried no matter what. Sit them down, tell them why you’ve chosen to go vegan, and assure them that you can feed yourself. What won my parents over was cooking for them at home. Tell them that you know more about food than you did before, which is true 99% of the time. Tell them that this is the right thing for you to do right now and you would really like them to support you. Don’t get angry, don’t make them feel bad; stay calm. When it comes to family meals back at home, help your parents cook! It will show your parents that you really can feed yourself, and also it gives you food to eat. You’ll be surprised how influential you can be, too. My father is seriously considering vegetarianism, which I never thought would happen in a million years, and is a great step in the right direction. Then again, there are certain people who are just never going to “get it”. Like, for example, my 87-year-old Italian grandmother. She’s never going to understand that I can still eat well . . . but that’s okay. You may consider telling certain family members half of the truth so it’s easier for them. We tell my Nonna that I can’t digest eggs or dairy anymore (which is actually half true anyways).
Hopefully after this crash course, you’ve seen that being a vegan in college isn’t only doable – it’s easy! – and conquering food challenges actually isn’t much of a challenge at all. Good luck in your studies and happy eating!
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.