Vegan In College: The Complete Guide
College is an exciting time where many of us think about who we are, what we value, and who we want to be. Best of all, we'll show you how it's not expensive to be a vegan in college.
It’s exciting to try new things and learn about what we like and don’t like, apart from our family’s preferences.
For some, that means re-thinking the way we eat, and for many that means becoming vegan.
Whether you are interested in a plant-based diet for your health, for environmental concerns, or because of your views on the use of animals for food, clothing, and other items, adopting a vegan diet requires some learning and some adjustments. When you’re away at college you may face additional challenge in maintaining a healthy vegan diet.
This guide is intended to help you learn and adjust so that your vegan diet in college can be as well-rounded, thoughtful, and healthy as possible. In this way you can get all of the benefits of this healthful, wholesome way of eating and living.
If you are beginning to think about veganism as a way of eating and living, you will have some learning to do. Veganism is more than just vegan food. It informs how you take care of yourself, how you dress, how you clean, and more.
There are many great books that provide a comprehensive view of vegan food and lifestyle. In addition, many online resources exist to help you learn more and ensure that you are eating an optimally healthy vegan diet.
The Vegetarian Resource Group (VRG) is one organization, for instance, that provides a great many materials to ensure that any questions your have are conveniently answered.
In addition, there are a number of documentaries that exist to help support and inform you as you embark on this new way of thinking about food.
Vegucated and Forks Over Knives are just two of the well-known and well-sourced documentaries that can help you learn more.
In addition, you will need some vitamin supplements and the ability to access foods that help you eat a balanced, healthful vegan diet.
There was a time that being at college meant you had only limited access to the products, foods, and other resources you would need in order to optimize your well-being on a vegan diet.
The advent of online retailers means that you can obtain vitamins, pantry items, and more conveniently and easily no matter where your campus is located or whether or not you have a car or access to public transportation.
Plan ahead to ensure that you have the items you need to ensure the healthiest possible diet.
In order to optimize your health on a vegan diet, you will probably want to learn at least some basic cooking skills. You will not experience the level of health and wellness that you are seeking if you are living on processed, shelf-stable foods.
There are many vegan bloggers, chefs, and even amateur cooks who share their favorite recipes and techniques on their websites, blogs, and YouTube channels. Avail yourself of the opportunity to learn from them easily and conveniently.
As you progress, you may want to learn more complex cooking techniques. Fortunately, many colleges and universities offer opportunities on campus to take cooking and culinary classes. See if your school offers such classes and go and learn more.
You may even want to begin a tradition with friends of cooking once or twice a week and sharing dishes with each other.
Especially if your dorm has a common kitchen space or a friend has an apartment with a well-stocked kitchen, this is an ideal opportunity to build your cooking skills, your community, and to share your latest vegan recipes with friends.
As you learn more about vegan food and cooking, you will want to avail yourself of opportunities to shop for the fruits and vegetables that will form the basis of your diet.
Think beyond the local chain supermarket to farmers markets, farmstands, and other sources of fresh, local produce.
Many large universities or those located in rural communities may have Agricultural Colleges on campus. Look into these and see if there are market days for the fruits and vegetables grown there.
In addition, you may be able to find community garden spaces or, with the permission of the campus authorities, start your own.
One of the greatest benefits of veganism is the mindfulness with which you will begin to consider what you eat and where your food comes from. What better way to do that than by growing it yourself?
Foods To Keep On Hand In Your Dorm Room
In an ideal world, you would spend all of your time growing your own food, preparing gourmet vegan meals, and hosting dinner parties, but the reality of college life is very different most of the time.
For many of us, classes, studying, writing papers, as well as working and participating in activities mean that many days we do not have time to eat as well as we would like.
It is important, therefore, to keep a small pantry of foods that can be prepared and eaten on the go, perhaps with just a warm-up in the microwave. Here are some possibilities:
- Nuts and seeds: provide protein, Omega 3s, and other healthful nutritional benefits on the go.
- Canned beans and peas provide easy and convenient protein; rinse before eating to reduce sodium
- Nut butter, fruit spreads, and whole grain crackers or bread: Lots of great nutrition in a classic PB&J flavor profile
- College Classics: For a vegan take on some dorm room standbys--Annie’s Homegrown Organic Vegan Shells and Creamy Sauce; Top Ramen Oriental Flavor; Orville Redenbacher Simply Salted Microwave Popcorn
One of the biggest challenges you will run into in maintaining your vegan diet is eating on the go. When you are vegan, it can be difficult to find easy, convenient foods on the go.
In addition, one of the easiest ways to become frustrated is to constantly let yourself get too hungry. Low blood sugar can cause you to become irritable, ill, and give up your plant-based diet because it feels “too hard” or inconvenient.
But maintaining your vegan way of eating is as simple as preparation. There are many easy and convenient snacks that you can toss into your backpack for fast vegan nutrition on the go.
Of course, there are obvious options like fresh fruit, nuts, and seeds. In addition, however, there are great vegan nutrition bars in a variety of flavors, like many varieties of Clif and Lara Bars which are widely available.
Try to choose bars with some protein content in order to ensure long-lasting energy and avoid sugar spikes which can leave you feeling hungry.
Other tasty options include hummus and cracker combos, canned fruits, and vegan chip vegan chips in a variety of flavors by brands like Beanfields, Kettle, and Earth Balance.
In fact, there’s just no better time to be a vegan than now when increased demand has created such a flourishing market for convenient vegan food options.
One of the things that will help you enjoy your new vegan lifestyle and learn more about plant-based living is meeting and connecting with other vegans.
Most college campuses chapters of national organizations like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), Vegan Outreach, or Vegetarian Resource Group (VRG).
Any of these organizations can benefit you in a variety of ways.
Besides learning from lectures and special presentations, such organizations may provide cooking classes or other instructional programs to help you become a more proficient vegan cook.
In addition, organized outreach to the university community and administration may result in more options in food courts and dining halls.
Aside from all of these benefits, simply working with and communicating with those who share your values and practices as a vegan will help provide support in your new lifestyle.
In addition, the more you know and understand about great vegan food, cosmetics, and healthcare products the more you will enjoy and embrace your plant-based way of life.
One of the things you may want to find out even before college if you know you are thinking of adopting a vegan lifestyle is how vegan-friendly your college is.
This does not necessarily have to do with the location, size, or academic focus of the college. Many small rural colleges may be very vegan friendly while some larger colleges may not be as attuned to the needs of smaller groups of students.
Check the food services department to find out if they offer vegan options on a regular basis in dining halls and campus quick-serve counters.
Check with student activities for vegan groups and organizations. Check around the local community and see if there are vegan restaurants in the area.
All of these are indicators of a vegan-friendly environment that will be responsive to the requirements of your vegan way of eating.
If you are at a college that does not offer options for vegans, there’s no time like the present to begin to help educate and inform the food services office about vegan options for their students.
The first step is finding out who is in charge of food services at your university. There may be a student liaison who handles student inquiries, or you may need to petition the director of food services directly.
The hierarchy will depend in great measure on the size of the school and the number of food venues.
Remember, food services can be more than just dining halls. Many campuses have quick service counters, food court-style dining, vending machines, concessions stands at athletic events, and food selections in bookstores and other on-campus buildings.
Any or all of these can provide vegan food options to make it easy and convenient for you to enjoy your plant-based diet on the go.
While you can certainly petition the school directly for more vegan-friendly options, this is when your connections in the vegan community at your school will be valuable.
Having your vegan student organization petition for better access as a group gives you a much greater chance of success.
There is strength in numbers, and seeing that a group of students is interested in vegan options will have more impact than just one individual.
The food service representative at your school may have questions or raise objections. It is important for you to keep a few things in mind.
Remain calm and friendly. There is no need to think of this as an adversarial experience. The administrator you speak to will have many concerns in mind, including budget, staffing, logistics, and a cost-benefit analysis of serving the greatest number of students as efficiently as possible.
Help answer their objections and questions and keep in mind the way a vegan diet can help meet the imperatives they have in mind.
Think about the campus as a whole. Emphasize the way that more vegan options will be of benefit to everyone in the campus community, not just you or your group.
Emphasize how a focus on vegan options will create better nutrition and more balanced diets for everyone.
Make it fun. Talk about how events like Meatless Mondays can build community on campus. Discuss ways in which the whole campus can begin embracing healthier eating to improve wellness outcomes for everyone.
This might also be a good place to discuss how a weekly event like Meatless Mondays can benefit the bottom line, through cutting 1/7 of the meat purchasing from the food services budget.
Few More Tips For Your College Vegan Lifestyle
There are a variety of items that you will start to see differently once you embrace a plant-based way of living. These include:
Cosmetics And Toiletries
Using cruelty free products and those that do not contain items like honey, lanolin, and other animal-derived ingredients is one of the ways of carrying your vegan values into other areas of your life.
If such items are carried in on-campus stores, you might want to begin a dialog with the buyers for more vegan-friendly alternatives.
Vegans do not wear fabrics like leather, wool, cashmere, and other animal-derived products. Look for cotton, linen, and other plant-based options, as well as artificial fabrics for sweatshirts, tees, and other spirit-wear.
There are a variety of cleaning products that are considered vegan and cruelty-free. Find out what the cleaning services department of your school uses and seek out alternatives that are similar in efficacy and cost.
Then petition your university cleaning services to find out if these alternatives can be purchased for use on campus.
This is a great way to not only live out your values but support companies that do good with large, institutional purchases.
Most Important! Have Fun And Think Positive
In the past, many animal rights groups created an image of veganism that was humorless and strident, with protests designed to shame and denigrate people who did not share their views.
Fortunately, as more and more people have embraced a plant-based way of eating and living, and as more and more companies have created vegan options for their products, the emphasis has become more and more on the positive and satisfying aspects of veganism.
Positive and informative communication about veganism is a great way to help others learn more about and embrace the vegan way of living.
Rather than telling people they are wrong to eat animals or use animal-derived products, focus on living the healthiest and happiest vegan life you can.
Then, as people see how happy and healthy you are, they will wonder what your secret is. That is your opportunity to share with them the positive health, environmental, and emotional benefits of a vegan way of eating and living.
If you are part of a vegan campus organization, consider hosting a movie night with a great vegan documentary and delicious vegan snacks.
The emphasis here is on “show, don’t tell.” Show the positive difference being a vegan has made in your life, and others will be naturally drawn to it.
Top 4 Reasons To Go Vegan In College
1. Increased Energy
While many of your friends will spend their first months away from home living on junk food and takeout, your vegan way of life will ensure you feel better than you ever have before.
That translates to a clearer head for studying and more energy for sports, activities, and late night study sessions.
2. Stay Out Of The Health Center
Nobody wants to spend time missing class and waiting online at the campus Health Center or Clinic. The good news is that with your healthy way of living, you’ll probably find yourself experiencing increased wellness and fewer illness as your immune system responds to being nourished better than before.
3. Steady Weight
Dreading the Freshman 15? A vegan diet may help you avoid the weight gain that so many college students experience.
And when you are nourishing your body optimally, you’ll also find that you feel more like working out, walking to class instead of taking campus transportation, and taking the stairs instead of the elevator. All of these can help you maintain a healthier weight.
4. Save Money
If you live in an apartment and buy your own groceries, you’ll find that you save tremendously when you’re not buying meat, dairy, and other high-priced animal products.
If your pantry is a small dorm snack cabinet, you’ll still find that the fruits, nuts, and vegan bars you’re eating are cheaper per serving than the processed junk food others are mindlessly nibbling.
And with a healthier diet overall, you may find that you’re not snacking as much, saving you even more.
Struggles Of Being Vegan In College
Like anything else, there are aspects of being vegan in college that may have their own difficulties. Finding good nutrition on the go that fits with your plant-based diet can be difficult.
That is where good planning comes in, as well as communication with the food services at your school to ensure that vegan options are available on campus.
In addition, there is a lot of socializing in college and you may find that friends order non-vegan pizza or invite you to events where there are no vegan options.
That can feel a little lonely. But speaking up and letting people know what you need can help. You may even find that your non-vegan friends enjoy your vegan pizza or snacks right along with you.
This is also why it is important to connect with other vegans on campus. That way you can enjoy social events, tailgating, travel, and other activities with people who eat and live the way you do.
That can increase your comfort level and enjoyment of these events and help you build lifelong friendships.
If you are struggling to find options that fit your way of eating in your cafeteria or dining hall, consider asking food services to make small changes that will make more of the food vegan-friendly.
Stop cooking vegetables with meat or preparing items with lard. Separate individual food items to create a taco or nacho bar so that these can be made vegan friendly.
Offering a variety of sauces at a pasta bar or creating a veggie lasagna whenever there’s a meat option can ensure that everyone enjoys dinner.
By asking for small, manageable changes that don’t increase spending, the school administration may be more open to implementing positive changes.
The Dreaded Salad Bar
Of course, the salad bar is your best friend and you will probably supplement much of your mealtime with a salad. But think beyond just salads.
Adding veggies to pasta with some salad oil may create a delicious primavera. Adding beans, lettuce, tomato, onions, and peppers from the salad bar to chips and salsa can make them much more satisfying and filling.
The same can be said of a rice bowl from the hot bar with beans and other veggies added. And of course you can make a delicious veggie sub by taking a whole grain roll and piling on your favorite veggies. Add a little oil and vinegar and enjoy.
Those Pesky Question
Some people may be skeptical of your vegan lifestyle. Family, friends, and even medical professionals may question whether you are getting sufficient nutrients from an all plant-based diet.
Here are some important things to know so that you can discuss your veganism with them:
Supplement when necessary: Vitamin B12 cannot be obtained through even the best-planned vegan diet and needs to be supplemented.
For many vegans, they will also need Vitamin D, iodine, and some other vitamins and minerals. Some vegans may require extra calcium, iron, and more.
Being aware of vegan supplements--whether through a vegan vitamin, additive, or fortified foods-- and faithfully ensuring that you take them as needed will help you to be healthier and ensure you are getting all of the nutrition you need.
Plan ahead: Don’t fall into the trap of eating french fries for the majority of your diet or living on processed junk food that is also vegan.
A bad diet is a bad diet, no matter what. Being vegan means planning and thinking about what you eat, so that you can ensure you are eating a healthy, well-balanced diet.
If you feel that you are not getting enough protein, for example, you might need to add a vegan protein shake to your daily diet.
Learn, Learn, Learn: Learning in college is not just for schoolwork. It’s also an opportunity to learn about your vegan lifestyle.
Watch documentaries, read, attend lectures, and learn as much as you can so that you can confidently talk to your loved ones about your choice to eat a plant-based diet.
Learn as much as possible about optimal vegan diets. That will help you feel confident when you explain the ways you are ensuring good nutrition in your own.
Great snacks can be part of your vegan diet. Delicious vegan chips, popcorn, crackers, nuts, and hummus as well as canned, jarred, or individually packed servings of fruits and vegetables are all shelf-stable and can be kept in your dorm room or apartment.
Dried fruit is also a delicious way to get quick energy on a vegan diet. Many brands of dark chocolate are vegan as well for those with a sweet tooth.
Or grab an extra piece of fruit or dish of veggies from the cafeteria to save for a late-night snack.
All of these meals are quick, easy, and based on shelf-stable or refrigerated foods that you probably have on hand in your dorm room.
And bonus: many of them are also gluten free and free of added sugar, so they are healthy in so many ways!
Whether you are becoming vegan for the first time or concerned about adapting your vegan lifestyle to the pace and independence of college life, there are many options for living your best vegan life and enjoying your campus experience as well.
With a little planning, a little information, and a lot of dedication it is easier than ever to create a plant-based lifestyle that fits your health and values.
- Davis, Brenda and Vesanto Melina. Becoming Vegan. Book Publishing Company, 2000.
- “National Update for Physicians: Plant-based Diets.” Kaiser Permanente
- Vegan Souls
- The Vegetarian Resource Group