Being vegetarian and vegan in college can be intimidating, especially when it seems like everyone around you eats meat. Though following a special diet in a college environment takes effort, here are some tips to follow that will make it a little easier…for everyone.
1. Have answers ready for FAQs
Being asked “Where do you get you protein from?” and “Why are you vegetarian/vegan?” over and over again may feel annoying, but those who ask are most likely interested in learning about your lifestyle. To make things easier on yourself, come up with brief answers and plan them in advance. This will take the stress out of these unavoidable conversations, and having a formulated answer will even make you sound impressive!
2. Keep snacks handy
Depending on your university, finding vegan and vegetarian snack options when you don’t have time to visit a dining hall can be hard. To pull you through long paper-writing sessions or just to give you a quick energy boost, keep power-snacks such as granola bars, fruit, nuts, or crackers in your backpack.
3. Be creative
If you eat your meals in a dining hall, chances are there will be days when no entrees pique your appetite. But with a bit of creativity, you can still cobble together a delicious and satisfying meal. For example, if your dining hall has a sandwich making station, try a veggie sandwich with hummus substituted for cheese. To make a veggie burger healthier, try chopping up the patty over a salad. A bit of culinary creativity will go a long way in college dining halls.
4. Stock up on staples
If you cook your own meals in college, always keep your fridge stocked with staples such as dairy-free milk, hummus, tofu, fresh vegetables, bread, and pasta or rice. Mix-and-matching staple items result in plenty of fast and easy meals during the week, from stir-fry’s to sandwiches or spaghetti.
5. Join a campus vegetarian or vegan student group
Being vegan or vegetarian in college can be lonely, it feels like everyone around you is eating animals. Check if your campus has a student organization for vegetarians and vegans, and if not, consider starting one. Joining a group of like-minded students, experiencing the same challenges as you can be comforting, and you can learn from others by sharing recipes and experiences.
6. Share food with friends
Many people (including some vegetarians and vegans) were raised eating meat. Therefore, your friends may have never tried tofu, dairy-free milk, or vegan cupcakes before. The best way to introduce your friends to your lifestyle is to share it with them. Invite them over for dinner, or share a dessert or snack. Most likely, they are eager to try out new food.
7. Be understanding of others’ opinion
A college campus is a mish-mash of different beliefs and worldviews. If one of your friends does not understand why you choose to abstain from eating animal products, don’t get hung up on them. For some of us, going vegetarian or vegan comes naturally, but for others, it may be difficult. Annoying a friend who thinks different than you won’t benefit anyone.
8. Find nearby restaurants with vegetarian and vegan options
Going out to eat with friends can be stressful for those with dietary restrictions. However, with a bit of preparation, eating out can be a piece of cake (literally!). First, try looking for local restaurants on this website: HappyCow.net, you can check menus in advance. If you are still feeling unsure, try calling the restaurant. Most likely, they will be glad to accommodate your dietary preference.
9. Contact your dining hall if veg options are lacking
If your dining hall seems to never offer vegetarian and vegan meal options, it is unnecessary to suffer in silence. Try contacting your dining hall with suggestions. Most of them collect comment cards for students to provide feedback. You could write an email to your university’s dining service or create a petition for more vegetarian options.
10. If you make a mistake, don’t sweat it!
Maybe it slipped your eye that the dining hall’s veggie burger contains eggs, or a piece of meat sneaked onto your plate at the pasta bar. Whatever it may be, instead of beating yourself up about it, shrug it off and start new.
Hopefully, these tips will take some of the stress out of being vegetarian or vegan in college.
Live the way that makes you feel happy and fulfilled, and if you keep this in mind, adjusting to being vegetarian and vegan in college will come smoothly.
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Lia Vallina is a sophomore at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor majoring in Communication Studies. In her spare time, she enjoys plant-based cooking, playing the guitar, and experimenting with fashion and makeup. In the future, she hopes to study advertising.