Eating healthy in a college setting can be a challenge. With late-night McEwen, Smitty’s and Cookout, Elon University students have many temptations to snack late and eat junk food. For others, making an extra effort to eat healthy is an important part of their lifestyle, especially for those that are vegan.
A vegan diet consists of following vegetarian dietary restrictions — not eating fish, meat, or poultry — and avoiding dairy and eggs. Some vegans are also strict about not wearing or using animal products.
A change for health
Sophomore Ariella Bresky has been health conscious since she was a child. Never a true meat eater, other than occasionally eating chicken, she developed a dislike for meat and the production process of the meat industry.
Bresky stopped eating dairy products when she was sixteen because her body was unable to produce the enzyme that breaks down lactose. During her freshman year of college, she made the impulsive decision to cut animal products completely out of her diet and become vegan.
“I think it is inhumane how animals are treated in factories and slaughterhouses,” Bresky said. “Even if a product is labeled ‘grass-fed’, the bottom line is that they are being killed for consumption by humans.”
Many vegans are passionate about animal rights, refusing to wear or purchase clothing and accessories made from animals. But, while Bresky would not go out of her way to buy a vest made out of animal fur, she would not be opposed to wearing a leather accessory if it was given as a gift for example.
Senior Audrey Coates CQ - CChas been a vegan for about two years. After struggling with an eating disorder, she started to research different healthy diets and started eating vegetarian. When she did not see positive results in terms of her health, she completely cut out meat and dairy from her diet.
Eventually, Coates wants to become a raw vegan, a of vegan diet where cooked food is not eaten.
“There are weeks where I’ll detox and eat completely raw,” Coates said. “Elon is hard to be a raw vegan because you need to continuously buy vegetables and fruits in such massive amounts, which can get pricey."
Elon students have several options for eating in dining halls, but for those with dietary restrictions, finding options that abide by their specific diet can be challenging.
Junior Stephanie Scro has been gluten free since she was young. In preparation for a jaw surgery last summer, she wanted to feel healthy, so she started following a vegan diet. She began eating a strict plant-based diet and saw good internal results.
“My pH levels were very alkaline and I felt the best that I’ve ever felt in my entire life,” Scro said.
Once she became a vegan, she started to only crave "healthy" foods and eventually her entire family followed suit.
“My dad went to the doctor one day and coincidentally was told he needed to be on a raw vegan diet,” Scro said. “It’s a lot easier eating vegan when I’m not at Elon since I have my whole family to support me."
Finding options at Elon that support both of Scro’s dietary restrictions can be difficult for her.
“I buy all my food organic at the Burlington Co-Op and cook my meals in my apartment because I don’t have a meal plan,” Scro said. “If you don’t have a kitchen or a car, it’s is definitely challenging to live this lifestyle."
Coates noted even though Elon has vegan options at Freshii, Green World and Oak House, it is still quite limited.
“I spent the summer in LA and there are so many vegan restaurants there,” Coates said. “Being a vegan is much easier when you are located in an area that promotes healthier lifestyles.”
Bresky added Green World in Colonnades Dining Hall does have vegan options, but there is not a huge variety. Last year, she would dine there once a day because lunch and dinner were the same meals.
Bresky was also hesitant to go there when they had dairy options, fearing cross-contamination with vegan and non-vegan foods.
Luckily for her, Bresky was able to make many of her meals in her common room kitchen, but buying groceries on top of having an All-Access meal plan proved to be challenging because it was more expensive for her to eat.
Getting beyond stereotypes
Vegan and vegetarian diets are often scrutinized by critics, claiming those who follow these diets are malnourished and are not getting the same nutrients as people who eat meat and dairy products.
“My motto is to just laugh at everything and joke around about it,” Coates said. “If a guy asks me where we can go on a date, I just say, ‘Oh, I actually only eat grass.’”
Coates said research has been proven that the American food pyramid is incorrect and people do not need as much protein as it suggests.
“All plants contain enough protein per calorie that your body needs to survive,” Coates said. “People think vegans need to eat tofu and other replacements, but you’re already getting those nutrients from vegetables.”
Breaks said consumerism also highlights the need for protein.
“The media affects people’s opinions to get them to be good consumers and buy their products,” Bresky said. “Meat is expensive, therefore commercials and advertisers drill into our heads that we need meat in our diets, so we buy it.”
Although meat is a way to get protein, its not the only way. Anyone — not just vegans — can get protein from beans, quiona, lentils and seeds like chia and flax. These seeds can be incorporated into smoothies and juices for a healthy and filling snack.
“I have a juicer and really like making my own green juices,” Scro said. “I’ve basically taken over my kitchen with fresh produce.”
For students without their own kitchen, Freshii now offers cold pressed juices, a filling and healthy option to get protein and nutrients.
Scro added that there are a lot of surprising alternatives to meat and dairy products. Dairy is very inflammatory, so she instead chooses flax, almond or unsweetened vanilla milk. To substitute for eggs, Scro likes to add applesauce to recipes.
Social media provides inspiration for vegans and those who are interested in living a healthier lifestyle. Instagram accounts like @freeleethebananagirl and @fullyrawkristina constantly post recipe ideas and food inspiration.
Bresky spent this past summer in New York City, so using Instagram was a way for her to become more familiar with the area by visiting vegan dining spots she saw on her feed. Blossom was one of Bresky’s favorite dining spots, a vegan restaurant chain that spans from casual dining at their cafe on the Upper West Side to an upscale restaurant in the West Village.
While being a vegan can prove challenging while in college, determination and passion are key in abiding by the diet.
“Research, watch documentaries, and find a reason for why you want to do it,” Bresky said.
To find a support group, Scro suggests exploring vegan options and connecting with vegans online and on campus. She added that becoming a vegan should be a decision for yourself, not for anyone else.
“Concentrate on how great you feel being vegan no matter how hard it is,” Scro said. “When you find that determination, you will start to feel amazing and never look back.”