To my freshly minted freshmen in college, I have a few messages for you:
1) Congratulations on being in college. Getting in is a feat by itself, so give yourself a pat on the back.
2) Not only did you get in to college; however, you also managed to survive the first few weeks (or days) of college (probably). I am hoping nothing too embarrassing happened to you. If anything has happened to you, I would like you to think of my first day of graduate school, when the bathroom door magically opened by itself—yes, it was locked, I swear! I was peeing.
3) Hopefully you are noting that you are about to have a time of change in your life and that some lessons will not be in textbooks or classrooms at all. There are things we experience sometimes when we transition to a new environment that just put things in perspective.
4) I think you now realize that you do not need half the things you brought to your dorm or apartment, but that is okay.
5) I hope you do not question that veganism is one of those things that you need to give up while you are going to school and living on your own because you can totally continue to be vegan, healthy, without being a social outcast in college.
The key to being vegan on campus, while going to school or work is essentially the same. It all boils down to a little confidence, awareness, preparation, prioritization, and budgeting.
Remember why you became vegan. This is the most important thing that will get you through the transition. Some colleges are not vegan-friendly at all. I had two vegan friends in graduate school and we had three options in terms of vegan meals: soup, salad (and we had to hover to make sure there is no cheese in there), and fruits. I had to remember why I was vegan very often—oh, it was for my health, for Momo, our overweight cat, who loved corn more than meat, who used to stick her butt in my face when I’d do yoga. Every vegan has a story and a reason for taking on such an “unorthodox” lifestyle. You have probably heard that Meatless Mondays are now not really a thing that is supported by our government (surprise!), so you need to remember why you are vegan—a lot of people will eye you dubiously, depending on where you are and who are you are talking to. College is about really questioning the ideals we hold onto. I was a vegetarian when I came into graduate school and then became vegan. Once you know your reasons, you must stick to your guns, because some people attack your decisions.
Be Aware: Know Your Facts
Learn what you need to do in order to be a healthy vegan and stay that way. You cannot live on the cafeteria food. I attended a school that had some demand for vegan food, but, guess what? All the food there was unhealthy as heck. Yes, ramen is vegan. It also has no vegetables, oils, or protein. Please do not be like me and eat nothing but rice, because that is all you know how to cook (badly).
If you cannot cook, buy canned or frozen food. They are a Godsend and sometimes. Dried fruits are incredible and I do not know why people do not eat them more often. The same goes to mixed nuts—dude, have you tried Japanese peanuts? They are delicious and crunchy. None of this stuff is expensive. You can buy them at the dollar store. Do some research, explore what is near or on your campus. There are little stores on campus that sell packaged nuts, for instance, for you to snack on. Why eat those chips when you can get protein? Also: please learn what we need as vegans in terms of vitamins and minerals. Lots of people will talk to you about protein. I’ll tell you this now: you are getting plenty of protein, probably. You might not be getting fiber, or vitamins, though.
Preparation: Think Ahead
As someone who went to school for eight years straight, while working, and then teaching freshmen for three years straight, I can tell you that college will be less painful if only you know how to prepare in advance for stuff in general. If you know you have no time to cook every day, make small meals and stick them in a fridge. If you get bored of eating one thing for dinner, change it up and make smaller portions. Buy those cute plates for children if you must. All I know is that cafeterias so much profit off of you and the food is not even that good. It is greasy and, if it is vegan friendly, it usually tastes like cardboard.
Set aside some time either during the day or in the weekend to cook food for yourself. If you commute like I did, invest in a lunch box. I don’t care if it is nerdy. Embrace it. Hell, buy a lunch box that you like—with stuff you are into: movie franchises, nerdy things, vegan jokes. You can be like me and just go to your garage. Chances are: there are lunch boxes from The Olden Ages When You Were Young And Free. Take one. Or, you can be gangsta and go to a garage sale or a dollar store and buy a lunch box. Buy Tupperware, Zip-locks, and a planner with enough room for you to plan your meals. There, you are ready to go.
Prioritize: Food and health > Homework, “social gatherings,” and other adventures
Look, I know you are going to find magical things in college. You will meet strange and incredible people. You will be under tremendous precious to socialize, experiment, and, sometimes, study. You need to prioritize. You are going to school to study—I sound old and lame, but I say this as a former professor. You are going to be in debt for a long time for this, so make it count. Dude: do your work. Also: dude, do not cram for a quiz or test, or write anything last minute. It never works. You may think it does. It does not. You can cram and get good grades, but something else will suffer, which should be your top priority in life always: yourself and your wellbeing. I speak from experience when I say that some damage cannot be undone. Do not put yourself in a position where you are stressing out, not eating healthy food, not sleeping enough or just being exhausted in any way.
Your health matters most. I encountered many people who try to be vegan only to quit for their health. When I’d ask further, though, they really were not tired because they were vegan. It’s because they were partying, going to frat or sorority parties, and then having to write five page papers afterwards. What are the chances they’ll be able to keep this up while living on rice, chips, and fries? Fries are vegan. They just do not have vitamins. You are going to get sick at some point and you’ll collapse. Remember your priorities: your health matters. The degree won’t mean anything if you are too sick to do anything with it. Honestly, most people you meet in college, you will never meet again. I am all for socializing, but do so with the awareness that you have taken care of yourself. If you got to a social gathering, make sure you have backup food with you—chances are, some people will try to make you vegan food that is not vegan at all.
Budgeting: Spending Time and Money
We have talked about cookbooks that encourage veganism but also encourage frugality, so I refresh back to that article for ideas on spending money on food. Bean sprouts were the greatest discovery of my collegiate life. They’re just amazing. Try different fruits and veggies on sale. Search for stores in the area, not just on campus. Mapquest, Google, or just use Siri. Walk around with a friend or dorm roommate to explore the area and see what you can buy. Be smart about this and compare prices. This way, you can prepare in advance when you need to do your shopping from which stores. Please do not settle for what is readily available to you—this is the biggest lesson you have to learn in college.
All of this involves budgeting time to go ahead and do research. You will do that because:
a) it can be fun if you bring along a friend or two to explore with you,
b) it can be a nice way to get to know someone and bond with them. You will be walking around for a while, and if these people are dorm mates or fellow vegans you have just met, you can give each other ideas—some people may not even be interested in veganism as a lifestyle for themselves but want to support you anyway.
c) it is a great exercise and a nicer way to actually get to know your campus and your surroundings and, d) you know that you are important and need to be healthy in order to do well in college.
College is going to be awesome. I wish you all the best and I hope you are enjoying your classes, your classmates, your teachers, and the whole experience. Stay tuned as we write more about veganism on campus and staying fit and getting support.
Image courtesy of Flickr’s The Commons.