Going vegan your first year


Ian Flanagan | Culture Editor

By Lexi Kennell / Staff Writer

After studying countless documentaries on animal agriculture, the environment and our bodies, I decided to make the leap to veganism.

And I’m not the only one.

A Vegetarian Resource Group study found that about 2.5 percent of Americans are vegan and the number is rising. Celebrities including Ellen Degeneres, Mike Tyson, Bill Clinton, Ariana Grande, Russell Brand and countless others have gone vegan, aiding the movement’s rise.

But celebrities likely have access to a litany of resources college students don’t: personal chefs, trainers, food coaches, expensive eateries and groceries. Going vegan is a serious commitment for the average college student who isn’t Ariana Grande, and one that’s not easy to keep without exerting extra energy.

But you should be willing to put in more effort when it comes to your food. Especially since becoming vegan isn’t just a food preference, but a morally guided decision to boycott any and all animal by-products, from suede shoes and leather car seats to mascara and shampoo tested on animals.

In high school, I went through phases of pescetarianism, vegetarianism and even “veganism,” but never for the right reasons. I wanted to lose weight or clear my skin, not help animals or the environment.

It was always a diet and not a lifestyle because I continually returned to the standard American diet — SAD. It was not until my sophomore year of college that I realized the vegan movement isn’t a vain endeavor, but representative of a person’s beliefs and values.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, animal agriculture, which includes the meat industry as well as the dairy industry, accounts for more than 18 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. All of the world’s modes of transportation, including cars, trucks, planes, ships and trains, make up for 15 percent, which means that raising livestock is worse for the environment than all transportation on earth combined.

Every minute, the equivalent of 48 football fields of forest is being cut down for animal agriculture, according to the World Wildlife Foundation. In addition, about 47 percent of soy and 60 percent of corn in the United States is grown solely for livestock to eat, according to Sustainatable.org. I have a crazy idea: why don’t we feed that grain to the United States’ more than 10 million food-insecure households? 

Maybe you were already considering a switch to veganism or are now mulling it over and thinking: what do I eat? Navigating Pitt’s campus as a vegan seems difficult, but it doesn’t have to be. Learning to cook with ingredients from local grocery stores and finding vegan dishes at restaurants is easy with practice.

Almost every food item at a restaurant or in a grocery store contains some sort of egg, milk, cheese or even meat. On top of the obvious foods I had to cut out — pizza, ice cream and yogurt, for instance — I also had to learn to look for less-commonly known animal by-products like gelatin, animal shortening and a type of red dye, called carmine, that’s made from insects. 

Luckily, vegan versions of just about anything exist. In some cases, the alternatives are better than the originals. I have to admit that Ben and Jerry’s new line of vegan ice cream tastes equally as rich as the dairy-version and comes with the feel-good fact that it’s cruelty free.

A common misconception is that going vegan means you’re willing to shell out an insane amount of cash at specialty grocery stores. But eating whole foods at home and getting creative with substitutions at restaurants or at Market Central is a necessity that makes being vegan affordable.

Unfortunately, there is only one grocery store in Oakland, the IGA on Forbes Avenue. It’s pricey and does not have a lot of variety for vegans. The best way to get groceries is by taking the bus or Pitt’s upper campus shuttle to an Aldi, the Giant Eagle Market District on Centre Avenue or the Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s in East Liberty.

A personal favorite of mine for fresh and inexpensive produce is Bombay Mart, an Indian market on Centre Avenue.

Once you’re at the store, make sure to check out the labels. For beginners, the easiest and quickest — but not always the most accurate — way to find out if a product is vegan is to look at the “Allergen Information” on the nutrition label. This will tell you outright if the product contains eggs or milk.

Some of the subtler, non-vegan ingredients that I mentioned before include whey powder, casein, gelatin, lactose, shellac, carmine, bone char, l-cysteine, mono- and diglycerides and lard.

My best tip for veganism — and any diet or lifestyle for that matter — is to eat whole plants and unprocessed foods. Not only is this better for our bodies, but it is kind to our wallets and the environment. Sticking to whole, plant-based foods is also the most efficient way to make sure what you’re eating is 100 percent vegan.

Another myth I’d like to bust for all the vegan-haters of the world is that I’m protein-deficient from a lack of meat. The only way for someone to be protein deficient is simply by not consuming enough calories, specifically the “right” calories. Complex proteins come from pairing nuts and seeds with either grains or legumes. For instance: peanut butter and fruit or rice and beans.

Cooking in dorms my first year proved to be a difficult task, but I made do with foods like microwavable oatmeal, fresh fruits and vegetables, canned beans and instant brown rice.

Adopting a vegan lifestyle in college is not impossible — if you have one now and feel like you might need to give it up, think again. Just remember that you are the arbiter of what goes into your body.

Watch out for tricky non-vegan ingredients, think about where your food comes from, question who sells you what and how they benefit from it. With time, practice and commitment, it can be virtually effortless to help save the environment, even if it is one chicken at a time.

Some suggestions around Oakland:

EatUnique, Craig Street

Spice Island Tea House, Atwood Street

Red Oak Cafe, Forbes Avenue

All India Authentic Cuisine, Craig Street

Liliput, Melwood Avenue

Mad Mex, Atwood Street and various locations

Cafe Phipps, right near the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Garden

Whenever I go off-campus to eat, I am sure to hit up Shadyside, Garfield or Lawrenceville because of their wide variety of vegan offerings. I always check http://veganpittsburgh.org to find restaurants around Pittsburgh that offer vegan cuisine before I go out with friends.

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