Convinced that veganism is the right choice, but not sure how to go about it? Here are nine tried and tested top tips designed to help students make the transition!
Let’s say you’re convinced that veganism is a good thing and worth a try. Perhaps you’re concerned about the animals that end up in supermarket aisles. Perhaps you are turning away from meat, fish, dairy and eggs because of their cholesterol content and cancer risks. Or perhaps it’s the growing environmental calamity – driven largely by animal agriculture, which is the leading cause of species extinctions – that has led to your decision to dip a toe into veganism.
Whatever the case may be, I’m going to assume that you know the relevant theory behind veganism – at least, enough to get you interested – but none of the practical side of things. If that sounds like you, then you’re in for a treat: here’s the comprehensive practical guide on going vegan while at university!
- Educate yourself around veganism in ways that interest you. Knowledge is power, they say. For vegans, knowledge is even more than that: knowledge is the lifeblood that keeps us vegan. So, learn about veganism and tailor it to your studies! If you’re a biologist, learn about farmed animal physiology and behaviour. If you’re a politician or economist, study the responses of governments and consumers to the vegan movement. If you’re a philosopher, read up a little on animal ethics and the philosophy of non-human minds. If you’re a physicist, a mathematician or an engineer, read up on the statistical aspects of climate and sustainability that the rest of us hardly understand. For the medical students, challenge yourself to learn about the health effects of animal products in the human diet. Whatever your expertise-in-training, use that as a jumping-off point to educate yourself on veganism.
- Learn what’s vegan and what’s not. Starting with the basics, eh? This isn’t actually as easy as it looks. Everybody knows that vegans don’t eat meat, fish, dairy or eggs. Some people are a little more confused about why honey isn’t vegan. Even more people don’t know that some vitamin D comes from lanolin (derived from sheep wool – not vegan!), that many non-organic oranges are coated in beeswax (not vegan!), or that shellac is the melted-down protective shells of the female lac bug (definitely not vegan!). But don’t worry – after a few shopping trips, you’ll be a pro at scanning the ingredients list of every product in the supermarket aisle.
- Don’t beat yourself up – take things one day, one meal, at a time. Everyone makes mistakes when first going vegan. It happens, from time to time – never consciously, but mistakes made when scanning ingredients in supermarkets, university cafeterias, restaurants, or cafés are inevitable. We typically eat three meals a day, which means three chances to get things wrong (or right!). If you mess up on breakfast (many cereals have honey in them, for instance), try again at lunch! Within a few weeks, being vegan will be second nature to you.
- Plan your meals! This is such a time-saver, I wish I had known to do this for the first two years of university. I spent upwards of an hour cooking every day, and kept having to go to the shops for important ingredients I didn’t have. By my third year (two years too late, perhaps), I had started sitting down on a weekend and thinking through what I was going to eat that week. Then, I’d go to the shops and buy it all at once – and then Sunday was for cooking! Viva! produce both weekly and monthly meal plans in the form of V7 and V30 – both entirely free and delicious introductions to the world of healthy plant-based eating.
- Bulk-cook meals ready for those long library sessions. A huge batch meal can provide lunch for the entire week, and means you don’t need to worry about your stomach grumbling whilst sat at your desk. Cooking vegan meals in bulk also makes it easier not to accidentally slip back into hastily store-bought non-vegan snacks – plus, you know that what you’ve made is (hopefully!) pretty healthy. Simply scale up a meal like a spaghetti Bolognese, a tofu Pad Thai, or even a simple batch of tomato soup, and enjoy it for many meals to come.
- Try and stick to wholefoods (where you can). ‘Wholefoods’ are those which have been processed as little as possible and which are relatively free from additives compared to the more processed foods (like vegan meats, for instance). There are many health benefits to sticking to a wholefood, plant-based diet. However, for the average student, what is more important is probably the cost – many wholefoods are the cheapest ingredients on the market! Beans, lentils, chickpeas, wholegrain rice, wholewheat pasta, berries, nuts, seeds, grains, fruits and vegetables are all significantly cheaper per gram, per calorie, and per amount of nutrients than meat, fish, dairy and eggs, as well as compared to vegan meats and processed vegan substitute products. (This is especially pertinent under the current cost of living crisis that will affect many students of 2022!)
- Use Vegan Recipe Club. Okay, I’ve told you to try and stick to wholefoods, and that sounds great. But how? At university, I’d frequently find myself stocking up on chickpeas and beans to last me for months… before realising I had hardly any idea how to turn them into interesting meals. Again, hindsight is 20/20: I should have simply downloaded Vegan Recipe Club. On there are around 1,000 wholefoods plant-based recipes, all available for free. You can filter them by difficulty (easy, not too tricky, or intricate), by budget, as well as by dietary requirements like soya-free, wheat-free or nut-free. Simply perfect for students lost in the big, bad world of self-catering.
- Get involved with your local vegan society. This is one of the best vegan assets a university can have – a society specifically to help vegans find each other, lament the (animal-agriculture-related) woes of the world, and share recipes and top vegan tips with each other. Your local vegan society may also host events like talks from vegan activists and campaigners throughout the year (perhaps even a talk from one of our Viva! campaigners). It was at a talk like this, just after I started university as a vegetarian, that I finally decided to go vegan. Plenty of other non-vegans also attended – so even if you aren’t yet vegan, don’t be discouraged from going along to find out more!
- Be active with activism! This might not be for everyone, admittedly. For a long time, I didn’t think activism was for me, either. However, universities really are breeding grounds for activism, and the change-making spirit can be infectious. You can either find or organise local groups to do street action, write and send out petitions, or talk directly with your catering departments and other staff members to support your institution in making positive vegan changes. Stepping out of your comfort zone and finding modes of activism that work for you is one of the best things you can do – apart from simply being vegan, of course.