Although delivery pizzas, all-nighters, and tight budgets characterize college, it’s also an ideal opportunity to develop lifelong healthy habits. This four-year incubation period is the time to focus on becoming the best version of yourself. Despite restricted dining hall options or roommates who seem to live off instant beef-flavored ramen and microwaved mac and cheese, going vegan on campus is totally doable. Become your best self not just through the higher education you’re paying for, but through your lifestyle as well. Here are five tried-and-true steps to help you easily go vegan on (and off) campus.
1. Do your research
Before you toss out your stash of animal-based convenience foods, it is crucial to find your why. Most people who jump into veganism just because it’s “trendy” aren’t able to stick to the lifestyle. There are many reasons to go vegan. Taking some time to research the benefits will allow you to further educate yourself on the culture and ensure that you make the change for good. Although there is an abundance of resources to motivate your journey, we highly recommend starting with documentaries What the Health or The Game Changers, or the Animal Rights Foundation of Florida’s 2011 presentation, “101 Reasons to Go Vegan.” All harness science-backed facts to promote the concept of veganism. We promise, all of these resources are far more entertaining than reading another textbook. College kids get enough of that already.
2. Take baby steps
Going vegan can be a lengthy transition, not an instant transformation. Don’t be discouraged if you hit some road bumps on your journey. College is a time full of distractions and temptations; if you drop the ball one night and indulge in some non-vegan dining hall cookies, don’t beat yourself up. If it takes the entirety of your freshman year to commit, that’s fine. When facing a setback, remind yourself of your why, and lean into it. Every progression is different, and that is a-okay. Pro tip: Next time you’re eyeing those dining hall cookies, grab a box of Oreos from your school’s convenience store instead. Also, check out these accidentally vegan snacks so you can stock up!
3. Get creative in the dining hall
Gone are the days of mystery-meat-stocked cafeterias. Today, 70 percent of colleges now offer at least one vegan option daily. If your school lands in that minority percentile, you just might have to be a little creative. A typical vegan night at the dining hall may include spinach and edamame from the salad bar, rice and beans from the Mexican station, and cooked vegetables from the hot food section. Sure, these flavors may not complement each other precisely, but let’s be real here; you’re eating college cafeteria food—omnivore or otherwise, it’s time to lower the bar.
4. Treat yo’self to off-campus food
Vegan or not, we all need a break from the monotony of the dining hall. In this day and age, most urban sprawls offer delectable vegan-friendly options, and most cities have at least a few vegan restaurants. To track down your new favorite to-go order, cross-reference HappyCow and Yelp for reviews and little-known vegan options. These tools are invaluable for college towns or suburban areas. You may have never discovered that one coffee shop that serves vegan cupcakes while living in your on-campus bubble! Another option is to search hashtags on Instagram. Type in #vegan(yourtown) for local hidden gems. For example, for all of you at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, check out the pastries behind the #veganchapelhill hashtag!
5. Stay accountable
Upon entering college, making new friends seems daunting. Fear not! The vegan niche may actually speed the process. It’s easy to meet other vegans through food clubs, vegan restaurants, or even in the dining hall. Food is one of the easiest topics to bond over, because who wouldn’t want to grab a bite after a long day of class? Having vegan friends to hold you accountable—and make it fun—is key to the longevity of your new plant-based lifestyle. While working on those best-friends-forever bonds, keep yourself accountable by creating a food-based Instagram (or go in the direction of ethical fashion—you will have a style-savvy, locked-in audience immediately). Devoting a public space to share your culinary creations, edible adventures, or vegan leather thrift store jacket can help increase your vegan confidence. Not bogged down with homework? Take it to the next level and create a vegan YouTube channel or blog with easy-to-use site-building tools. Whether an Instagram account, website, or YouTube channel is up your creative alley, expressing your vegan passions with others is a sure way to stay accountable.
Not sure if you’re going back to campus for Fall 2020? Check out these budget-friendly meals you can master at home while taking courses online. If you’re fortunate, perhaps your parents will spring some cash for groceries—and you can veganize them in the process!
Caroline Hughes is an honors student at Texas Christian University obtaining a Strategic Communication degree with a minor in Business.