By Rebecca Dowd
Abigail Fulk saw the sign for the vegan station in a cafeteria at The University of Central Missouri and rushed over to it. But when she took a closer look, her heart sank. The vegan stir fry had been cooked in beef bouillon (just because it’s bouillon doesn’t mean it has no meat in it) and the sign for the pasta at the station said the pasta “only” had bacon bits in it.
This wasn’t enough to make Fulk give up her vegan lifestyle, but maintaining a vegan diet isn’t easy for college students. Beyonce and Jay Z tried to make it easier with their “22 Day Vegan Challenge”—sign up for $119.99, you’ll get protein bars, plant based protein powders, and recipes delivered right to your door—but you still have to eat and that’s the challenge for many college vegans.
To be vegan means to eat a totally plant-based diet— no meat, eggs, or dairy. Bye-bye cheese; hello beans, rice, veggies, nuts and fruits. Also sugar. You can be vegan and eat only Oreos, says Anne Henry, a nutritionist in Denver, Colorado, but a diet of cookies isn’t sustainable.
Lilly Bakker, a senior majoring in social welfare at The University of Kansas was hesitant talking about her vegan diet because she didn’t make it past the two week mark. “I stood no chance,” she says. She wanted to be able to sit on the couch with her roommates and eat junk food. Allie Roseman, a senior majoring in business at Miami of Ohio University made it two and a half years, and enjoyed eating fruits, veggies, oatmeal, and beans, but the challenge of finding vegan food on her campus did her in.
Roseman stuck to three options: baked potato, steamed broccoli, and brown rice. Eventually, she found herself 20 pounds lighter and couldn’t maintain a healthy body weight. “I couldn’t handle it anymore, so I just quit,” Roseman says.
It’s frustrating to Fulk that to be committed to your vegan diet in college means losing a ton of weight. Eating on the University of Central Missouri campus was torture, she says. KU students are much more satisfied with their vegan options on campus. KU Dining recieved a B on the 2015 Vegan Report Card, according to Peta College Rankings, with 89 percent satisfaction ratings.
For the 2015-2016 school year, KU introduced “Nature’s Finest,” which is 100 percent plant-based at every dining location every day, says Christine Ebert, a registered dietitian for KU Dining Services. These Nature’s Finest stations aren’t the only places with vegan options, but they help curtail student requests for more and easier options. If students have the will, there are options for them on campus, Ebert says.
KU has more vegan options available than ever before. “In fact, 39 percent of our recipes are vegan. That is up from around 28 percent last year,” Ebert says. Kathryn Everett a junior majoring in engineering says being a vegan at KU actually isn’t that difficult because she can find meals and snacks quick and easy. And with the milk substitutes offered, she can still enjoy coffee between classes.
As a busy college student, it is easy to neglect our bodies, Everett says. Even though she has lost a few pounds, but nothing too significant, she thinks being vegan is the best option for her body, the environment and promoting fair treatment of animals.
Everett is not alone. Bon Appétit Management Co., a company that manages more than 4,000 college and university dining services saw twice as many vegan college students in just four years (from 2005-2006 to 2009-2010).
With more options at KU, Everett can stay healthy, but she still has the hardest time saying no to cookies…
“Cookies are my achilles heel,” she says.
Photography by Emma Creighton