Illustration by Erin Davis
Veggie Burgers are available upon request at Fresh Food Company, but I couldn’t muster up the courage to order one until the second week of school. I wasn’t expecting much, but thought of what kind of patty it might be: chicken flavored like the ones at Burger Studio, a more savory flavor packed with some sort of bean, or it could be a fish flavored one like the patties from Subway (I never miss fish). But to my dismay, there was no patty at all. My veggie “burger” was a bun with lettuce, tomatoes and onions.
The transition to college is hard for anyone, but for a vegan, the transition is much more difficult.
In an ideal world I have all of the money, time and space to prepare my own vegan-friendly dishes, guilt free and rich in flavor and nutrition.
But the reality is this: I live in a freshman dorm with a mini fridge and no access to a stove. At best, I can maybe make some veggie ramen in my microwave, packed with the distinct flavors of MSG and sadness.
From Vegan to Vegetarian
I’ve been meat-free for two years now, and for six months I was proud to call myself vegan.
Being a vegan was great. My skin was clear, my body was lean, I could eat as much as I wanted to and I managed to scare away a lot of people while inspiring many others. But the truth is, I never was a vegan. Yeah, I ate a plant-based diet, I only used cruelty-free cosmetic products, I didn’t wear any fabrics that weren’t vegan and I didn’t even ride horses. But once I got to college, my downfall was my own taste buds. My resolve to eat good food was stronger than my resolve to save the animals.
Now don’t get me wrong, I could very well be vegan on campus. But the problem is, I’m picky.
When you’re a vegan, you don’t get to be picky. It’s either eat what tastes good and be selfish and kill the animals, or eat what tastes “eh” and save the world. But as a foodie, I can’t live off of just salads and rice. I need my pizza, my burgers and my stir-fry to stay alive, all of which have vegan alternatives, but you’d be hard-pressed to find any on campus, unless you’re willing to cough up that precious cougar cash. My own personal balance has dwindled down to around $30 from my stubborn refusal to eat whatever unappetizing vegan meal is being offered at fresh foods on a given day.
In my time of weakness, I have given into the temptation of my cravings and resorted back to eating dairy. It’s just so much easier to eat a cheese pizza than to make sure that everything I eat does not contain any milk, eggs or cheese.
It’s not something I’m proud of by any means, and telling people I’m vegetarian just makes me feel like I have a half-assed resolve.
The Social Stigma
While the stigma against vegetarians is not as bad as the stigma against vegans, in my experience, I have faced ridicule as both.
Be prepared to constantly defend your lifestyle choices and to constantly explain why you decided to give up bacon (how could anyone do such a thing?) to stop supporting the torture and cruelty that goes on within the meat industry.
The reason why so many people still continue to eat meat is disassociation or apathy, and this is something that almost every vegan or vegetarian was also once influenced by, and it’s important to remember that.
I have had teachers and professors alike tease me for my decisions, and I’ve faced the rude questions from my peers that were clearly asked to mock my lifestyle rather than genuinely inquire about it. But when you are passionate about what you stand by, this won’t bother you and it is to be expected.
The social stigma in college is not as bad as it was in high school, for sure. In high school, there wasn’t much of a community for those like me, and the people in high school were often not commonly exposed to alternative lifestyles and viewpoints.
One thing to note as a vegetarian is that you not only face the stigma of meat-eaters, but also many vegans alike who will tell you that your efforts are not enough and that you are just as bad as a meat-eater.
Trying to be Vegan on Campus
Being a vegetarian is not difficult by any stretch of the imagination, for me at least. I became a vegetarian when I was six years old after I watched Bambi for the first time. Of course that didn’t last long because my parents got mad at me and said I had to eat meat or I’d get sick. Still, it wasn’t hard to be a vegetarian then and it isn’t hard to be one now.
Our campus offers a vegetarian meal option at almost every dining facility. There is no pestering the employees and making sure everything you eat is contained separately and that it doesn’t contain any sort of animal product. There is no asking for half of the ingredients to be taken out and, as a result, paying for a meal that bears no resemblance to what it was and fostering the disdain of whatever employee had to make it for you. As someone who has worked in the food industry, I know how annoying vegans are, and even though it’s hard to be “that vegan,” it’s something I’m willing to do.
Trying to maintain a vegan lifestyle as a freshman on campus, on the other hand, was extremely stressful for me. My schedule was packed, money was tight and I’d spend class thinking about how I’d get my next meal and what it might be instead of paying attention in class and managing my time well.
During this time, I was never full after I ate, and the lingering emptiness in my stomach would bother me as I tried to go about my daily life.
I was starting to get sick because I wasn’t eating well anymore. Sure, I’d avoided that freshman fifteen within the first few weeks of school, but my obsession with food started to overlap with the symptoms of an eating disorder.
On that day in the dining hall, while I sadly munched on my veggie burger, I decided to pick up a cheese pizza.
This was not me saying good bye to the vegan diet, but it was simply me postponing it in order to focus more on the other aspects of my life.