The Daily Beet

22 Feb Plant-strong in college!

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We have a special guest post by Happy Herbivore Intern, Nicole on how to stay plant-strong in college.

Hi there! My name is Nicole Raphael and I’m a senior at Morningside
College in Sioux City, Iowa majoring in Photography. I’ve included a
story that pretty much wraps up my plant-strong decision and how I’ve handled
the label I carry on my sleeve. Being surrounded by people who range
from 18-25 made my decision an odd one and relating it to others has
been difficult, especially living in an environment that relies on its
consumers to eat the meat produced in the meat-packing plants
surrounding the area. Being said, I’ve found ways to suffice for my
plant-based diet by asking grocers to include more foods, taking
advantage of the asian supermarkets in town, and going to online
communities that offer advice and tips to like minded people. I’ve learned
that no matter where we are in the world, how old we are or how tight
our wallets are, we can find ways to be a healthy and happy.

Many college students believe that attending class in pajamas is
normal, being hungover Monday through Friday isn’t looked down upon,
and knowing the word keg-stand is more important than the word
nutrient. They also believe that eating foods with high saturated
fats, sugar, and sodium are okay to eat on most days because they
simply don’t know better. I fell into that category of the student
body up until my sophomore year of college when I decided to take a
class that would soon change my life forever; The Ethics of Food,
taught by Tom Gilbert. Thanks to that class, I have upheld a plant
based diet and successfully managed to do so with my busy college
lifestyle. Now that I’m reaching graduation, I have spent much time
discovering new ways to stretch my dollar, incorporating fast go-to
meals that are both healthy and delicious, and of course, expanding my
knowledge of the wonderful world of cooking. More importantly, I’ve
found a lifestyle that works both for my mind and my body.

Being plant-strong means that we as a community must always carry an
imaginative notebook with all the answers to the questions that our
omnivore friends have to ask: “Where do you get your protein?”, “It
must cost you a fortune”, and my favorite, “Oh, that’s too hard. I
love cheese.” I’ve been asked those questions many times and since I’m
a college student, my number one focus is always on the money. Since
I’ve always jumped from one job to the next [because I love to travel
& I’m in college so I’m allowed] I’ve always had to manage out my
budget. When I found out about my new love being plant-strong, I had to
really sit down and think about how I was going to afford it. So, I
started out eating brown rice and beans, a lot, because I was simply
afraid to even think about adding more “unknown” foods into my diet.
However, when I realized that I didn’t need to buy the products such
as fake cream cheese, mock meats, and vegan brownies, I came to the
rationalization that I can really just live off of fruits, vegetables
and grains. And I did. Not only did I start saving tons of money, I
started saving room in my jeans! My roommate and I would go grocery
shopping every two weeks and spend no more than $60 on foods such as
canned goods, rice, and farmer’s market produce and by the end of that
summer, each of us dropped 50 pounds together. Since we motivated each
other everyday to be healthy, we had developed an absolutely amazing
positive energy that neither of us couldn’t even believe! And because
of that, we started to take pride in it and began talking to our
friends like “the plant-strong way is the only way” and that soon got us into
a lot of trouble.

Since I was in a college setting with young students such as myself,
I was criticized a lot. Some of my friends didn’t like to hear about
my new diet but it was so difficult for me to not talk about it, I
mean, I had discovered a way of life that could reverse diseases,
clean up an unhappy colon, and make an overnight energy that I
couldn’t come close to describe. I became the “bad vegan” that every
other vegan hates. I would look at my friends eating an ice cream cone
and spill out facts that I had learned in my Ethics of Food class. I
had to sometimes nudge my roommate if she was commenting on someone’s
meal at a restaurant because I didn’t want us to be the gossip talk of
our friend’s next meet up. The plant-strong diet had totally created us into
these “vegan police” monsters and some of our friends didn’t like that
one bit.

However, over time I got much better. I started to realize that no
matter how hard we as a people push at a certain topic, even if it’ll
save a life, no one will listen to the crazy person shoving
information down their throats. So, I changed up my act, stopped
talking about it, and simply allowed people to come to me and ask.
Believe it or not, once I stopped talking, they started asking. I now
have friends who ask me to help them out with grocery shopping, inform
how cost-friendly a healthier diet can be, and I show them the right
foods that will ensure for them to overcome illnesses. Yes, I am
constantly telling my roommate to up her dosage of blueberries
whenever she gets a cold. I’ve officially turned into the house mom,
and I’m more than okay with it.

Because of this class that I took, I’ve finally been able to finally
learn about nutrition in the right light. Everyday, I look forward to
what I put into my body for fuel. For breakfast, I usually have
oatmeal. For lunch, I usually stick to a simple left-over from the night before
which includes anything from falafel whole wheat pitas to broccoli pad
thai that I make. Cooking my meals is important to me because not only
am I reducing the overloaded amounts of sodium and fats that fast-food
offers, but my ingredients stay fresh and packed with nutrients.

One major lesson that I’ve learned is simply common sense: In our
life, we only get only one body, so we must take care of it. I strive
to incorporate every daily nutrient into my diet because I care about
my health. It may seem like that’s a very easy answer but according to
Forks Over Knives, The China Study, Food Inc., The Omnivore’s Dilemma
and so many more great sources, Americans simply do not know what good
nutrition is. When we are a nation filled with meat eaters dying from
heart disease everyday, I am forced to worry about my health along
with my loved ones, even if I’m only 21-years-old. To this day, I’ve
influenced many people to take on the challenge of incorporating more
plants into their diets through my cooking, websites/books/films I’ve
recommended, and just simple conversation. My dad has been an on/off
plant-based because of his diabetes, my mom turned organic nearly overnight
and vegetarian recently, and my boyfriend made a vegetarian new years
resolution! I couldn’t be happier to see my loved ones take their
health into initiative but most importantly, it was their decision.

More recently, my plant-strong diet has led me into working alongside my
favorite book/author: The Happy Herbivore by: Lindsay Nixon. I decided
to write her one day asking if I could be apart of her team in any
sort of way, and she was glad to invite me in. Lindsay has been so
kind to allow me to be her intern and show me the ropes of her daily
life as a successful writer, chef and person. Everyday I’m given a new
project. Whether it’s interviewing new people to the plant-based lifestyle, struggling in their rural communities or taking photographs of Lindsay’s latest and
greatest recipes, I’m finding out more and more reasons why my
decision to go plant-strong was worth it.

Thank you Nicole for sharing! Are you a college student who is plant-strong? We’d love to hear from you!

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Engine 2 Team
Engine 2 Team

The Engine 2 Team is dedicated to helping you become plant-strong! Each of us are on the plant-strong journey right along side of you!

  • Jenni
    Posted at 11:04h, 22 February

    This is just what I needed!!!!

  • Sharon Miller
    Posted at 11:17h, 22 February

    I work on campus, started in Housing & since moved to athletics, & I can tell you, this campus is vegetarian & vegan unfriendly – I feel badly for the students that try to eat nutritiously, if they live in residential halls, they have to have a meal plan (no way out!) & the cafeteria and satelite eateries on campus don’t have a clue (Aramark is our vendor). I have completed surveys several times & complained, but they are bout bottom $$ not about health. Many new students that are avid vegans & vegetarians choose to live off campus because of the issues. But I am not giving up…

  • Peggy
    Posted at 11:39h, 22 February

    I also work in housing on an urban university campus. Aramark is our vendor and is working with us on a Healthy U initiative. I think being vocal is the answer. We keep pushing for more vegetables and vegan options. I have been able to eat Plant Strong easily most days. It is a process. Now I am working on how we get Sysco to carry kale-that will be a big battle won!!

    I agree with Niclole. Just set the example and let them see how much you love what you eat and how you feel.

  • Julia
    Posted at 13:45h, 22 February

    I went vegan after moving off campus, and doubt I would have made it otherwise. Certainly not plant-strong! My first college barely had enough vegetarian options that weren’t cheese pizza, french fries, and sugar cereal; I don’t think they had soy milk at all, and I hardly ever saw a vegetable that wasn’t overcooked, fried, or swimming in some cheesy sauce. At my second college, widely proclaimed one of the most veg-friendly in the country by Peta, vegan options were still few and far between, and they were usually over-processed vegan snacks like veggie burgers, local TofuShop soy products, and Alternative Baking Company cookies. Since moving into my own place, I have really expanded my food options, going to natural food stores and farmer’s markets, but it’s still a choice between economical options like dried beans and grains and fresh organic produce. Plant strong is still cheaper than processed vegan food or vegetarianism, but often times it is more about the healthy choice, even if it does cost the extra dollar.

  • Amy
    Posted at 14:07h, 22 February

    I loved this article! I am a 21 year old college senior and my roommate and I switched to a whole foods, plant based diet last month. It has been going great and I have never felt better. Our friends are in shock, but we keep telling them that if you go to the grocery store regularly there is no reason to eat the poisonous fast food that most college students live off of. I think most people focus there attention on older people who are already sick, but targeting people in their 20s is a great opportunity to prevent disease and create healthy habits that will last a lifetime.

  • Shonda Hector
    Posted at 18:24h, 22 February

    I wish I could join you all, but unfortunately there are many people like me who cannot digest carbohydrates such as grains. I surely have gluten intolerance (runs in the family). And probably due to the damage that was caused by eating whole grains, I even have issues with beans and potatoes. That leaves me nothing but meat and vegetables and some fruits and nuts sparingly. I purchase organic when I can and avoid hormones and antibiotics in my meats.

  • Kate
    Posted at 21:37h, 22 February

    This is an interesting post. Thanks for sharing.

    My youngest son is a college student that nearly starved to death attempting to eat plant-strong and corn-free with student housing food services offerings. He came home with a negative freshman 15 and malnutrition. Since he was already very thin, he was skeletal at the end of the term and very, very ill. Now he attends a university that is close enough to live at home. We plan meals and enjoy our plant strong diet. He has regained his health and weight after a long struggle. We don’t spend a lot of money on groceries, because we grow micro-greens, baby greens, and sprouts in our kitchen, prepare beans, rice, and millet purchased in 25-50# bags, buy and grow organic veggies and fruit in season for fresh eating, freezing and dehydrating, and don’t ingest any processed foods even if they are supposedly vegan/healthy.

    We stopped feeding his college friends as was our previous tradition, because we were sick of the flack over the lack of animal products. Our meals are delicious but not at all like greasy burgers and pizza. We don’t tell people about our choices but wait until they ask. Food is an area that is very emotional for people. They get very defensive when confronted with their poor choices.

  • Karina Philaphandeth
    Posted at 01:21h, 23 February

    My boyfriend attends the University of Florida in Gainesville, and pretty soon I will be too! Gainesville is a very agricultural area. In fact, UF was rated PETA’s #1 veg-friendly school. The main dining area has many healthy options. They have fresh fruits and vegetables displayed for decoration everywhere, an enormous variety of locally-grown vegetables at their salad bar, fresh fruits for dessert, and a vegan section that makes me feel right at home… Not to mention, their recipes give me ideas for easy homecooking 🙂 Oh, so delicious! and a great motivation to keep a plant-based lifestyle!

  • Rachel Meltzer
    Posted at 09:55h, 22 January

    I feel the same way as you did when you started, but I choose to become vegetarin and almost vegan on my own because I dislike the taste of animal products. How do you shop for one person though? I buy mostly quick, processed foods because I don’t have time and don’t like cooking, and fresh vegetables go bad so fast. Do have a college vegan shopping list and some quick recipes that you can direct me to just for college students?

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