Sustaining the Vegan Lifestyle
Increase in students choosing diet, despite lack of dining options
By Jennifer HeslopPosted Apr 25, 2012
With the non-stop demands of college, vegan students are finding it hard to sustain their diet on campus. With the enigmatic nutritional content of campus dining options, students opting for healthier choices are not seeing their needs met at on-campus food establishments. In spite of these difficulties, recent studies have shown an increase in college students choosing the vegan lifestyle.
Mercedes Aviles, a junior arts management major, attributes this increase to our access to resources about ecological concerns.
“I think the increase is a result of contemporary documentaries on these issues that inspire students to be a part of the green movement,” she says. “Every generation is pressured socially, but our generation has to appeal to more social dynamics. While I started the vegan diet for health reasons, the treatment of animals during the production process and the exploitation of farmers contribute to my justification.”
Veganism and vegetarianism are similar in that they both avoid meat, but vegans also exclude other animal products from their diet. That means no eggs, meat, fish, butter, cheese and milk.
According to a 2012 study from the Vegetarian Times, about 3.2 percent of Americans—7.3 million people—are vegetarian. Only 0.5 percent, or 1 million, are strictly vegan.
And, a 2004 survey from the food service ARAMARK found that 25 percent of college students polled said having vegan options was “important” to them.
Helen Bulford, a junior athletic training major, agrees that our generation is the most socially conscious to date.
“I think the rise in veganism is definitely a reflection of that,” she says. “With advancements in agricultural technology, we began using more chemicals, completely changing the way we farm and raise livestock. Now that we have begun to see the negative side effects, we are trying to adjust our behavior and reduce the negative effects of our choices on the planet.”
Bulford became a vegan after her parents started Engine 2, a diet created by a fireman that is comprised of only whole-grains, fruits and vegetables. While she has switched to a vegetarian diet recently, Bulford found that the vegan diet forced her to become more aware of her choices and increased her overall motivation. “Without eating meat and dairy, I paid a lot more attention to what I was eating so that I was sure to get a balanced meal,” she says.
While also concerned about improving her health, sophomore international business major Melissa Wandle became a vegan to counteract the harmful effects of the industrial production of animal products.
“Cows alone account for almost 20 percent of the world’s green-house gas emissions,” she says. “That number is so high because people have been eating significantly more beef in the past 50 years and also because industrial farms feed cows GMO corn and animal by-products instead of grass. This leads to poor digestion, causing e-coli to form in their stomachs and, after digestion, methane. The e-coli in the cows’ waste gets into nearby water sources and pollutes them as well.”
Despite the benefits of their diets, these women have found the lifestyle difficult while living on campus.
Bulford says, “I would consider returning to a vegan lifestyle, if it were easier on a college campus. There are one or two places on campus that provide some vegan choices, but it is just not enough to sustain the lifestyle. In a dining hall at my previous college, there was a vegan station where the options changed every day. Unfortunately, at Ohio State I haven’t come across a vegan-only station like that.”
Wandle would love to see campus dining halls serve organic and locally-grown foods with plenty of vegan options.
“Some of the cafes around campus use organic soymilk and have some organic products, but I would love for them to be more widely available,” she says. “Unfortunately, the university seems to care more about making money than students’ health.”
Aviles says, “Given the size of Ohio State, there has to be enough students who would be able to support a vegetarian and vegan dining hall, especially with our students’ growing interest in this particular cause.”
Ohio State has recently been increasing their outreach to vegan students, through events like the OUAB Vegan and Vegetarian Cooking Night coming up on May 8 in the Ohio Union Instructional Kitchen.
However, Aviles, Wandle and Bulford would like to see vegan options integrated on a regular basis to encourage and support students choosing a healthier lifestyle.
In the meantime, these students use the media as their primary source for information about the ethical issues regarding the mistreatment of animals as well as a source for recipes, support and nutritional research.
Bulford says, “Researching food options as a vegan is necessary. I have found so many great vegan recipes online and through Engine 2. Also, the PETA website has a starter kit that gives you information about animal farming, the environmental issues surrounding the meat industry and information on how to properly get all the nutrients you need.”
For more information about the ethical reasons behind the vegan lifestyle, Wandle recommends documentary films like “Forks Over Knives.”
“The film is a great source because it discusses how consuming animal products affects your health, and how it is the main cause for many diseases that our government and charities spend millions of dollars trying to find cures for.”
Despite having to work against the unhealthy norms of our society, Bulford, Aviles and Wandle are still huge supporters of the vegan lifestyle and are advocates for changes to Ohio State’s dining options.
“People don’t realize how much animal by-products are used until you are actively trying to avoid it; you also don’t realize how many really good options there are for vegans if you just look for them,” Bulford says.