Stigmatization surrounding vegan or vegetarian lifestyles has been surfacing since they began, but students across campus crush these stereotypes in the name of compassion and health.
Veganism is the practice of not eating or using any animal products, and for graphic design major Iliana Cusack-Mercedez, a junior, it is a personal responsibility to be vegan.
“I went vegan because of the impact on the environment. The dairy industry has such a large impact on the environment and, with climate change and everything, we need to do what we cannot to destroy the earth anymore,” Cusack-Mercedez says.
Cusack-Mercedez has been vegan for two and a half years now. However, she has been vegetarian, or someone who does not eat meat, for 10 years. She decided to transition from vegetarian to vegan in college.
“It’s really not that much harder jumping from vegetarian to vegan, especially when you have that support of people close to you,” Cusack-Mercedez says.
She says the transition was easier for her with the support of her sisters, who were already vegan before she was, and spending her childhood surrounded by non-dairy products due to her mom’s dairy allergy.
Accounting major Rachael Braziel, a senior, has been a vegetarian for six years. Her biggest motivation is the impact on the environment, caused by the mass production of meat. Moreover, she enjoys the way her body responds to a meat-less lifestyle.
“It makes me feel clean and not grossed out by what I eat, because I know exactly where it’s coming from,” Braziel says.
With the support of her friends and family, her transition began during her sophomore year of high school.
“My father was vegetarian for a long time before me. Huge health freak,” Braziel says.
Political science major Palak Patel, a junior, finds her motivation to be vegetarian both in her culture and in the health benefits. She said she also enjoys being vegetarian as a method of self-care.
“The plant-based food is just healthier. You know what you’re getting; you know what you’re putting in your body. And I’m Indian, so it’s already a cultural thing,” says Patel.
A common misconception for a lifestyle without consuming meat is that people assume there is nothing a vegetarian or vegan can eat.
“I think everyone, when they think of vegetarianism, is like ‘Oh, it’s just salad; it’s just like hamster food.’ No, there’s more,” Patel says.
Patel also says that another false belief some share about vegetarianism and veganism is the idea that salad is the only thing practitioners of these diets can eat.
“Even sometimes as a vegetarian you don’t want a salad every day,” Patel says.
For Braziel, her go-to meal is a black bean salad, which contains black beans, corn and avocado. She says it is cost efficient and keeps her filled with lots of nutrients. Braziel’s favorite snack is cheese and crackers and lots of fruit, such as melon, honeydew and cantaloupe.
However, getting all the necessary nutrients did not always come naturally to her. When she first started being a vegetarian, she said, she was eating a lot of pasta and soy. She says, although she felt better not eating meat, she questioned whether her body was getting the right nutrients.
Braziel credits popular websites BuzzFeed and Tasty for aiding her in the search for nutrients-packed vegetarian meals.
Patel struggled similarly with trying to keep her body full and energized in her transition to college.
“It was hard figuring out what I needed in my body and what was nutritious and what was just going to fill me up.”
In order to keep herself feeling strong, Patel’s ideal snack became Oreos and carrots for a quick fuel-up.
Patel is not alone in her struggle of sustaining a restricted diet on campus.
Braziel lived in West Campus Residence Complex her freshman year and had to maneuver her lifestyle around the dining options at college.
“I lost a lot of weight because of how little I had to choose from on campus,” Braziel says.
Although Braziel would utilize the weekly meal swipes at the Adanti Student Center with the rice bowl option, she says her options at Conn. Hall were limited to heavy carbs like pizza and French fries when those meal swipes ran out.
“I feel like [the food I ate] impacted my work freshman year too. It made me so lazy and I was always napping.”
She tried to venture out with other options at Conn. Hall but had no luck.
“I tried the salad and sandwich station, but you can tell it was sitting out. It was gross.”
Patel’s frustration with the dining choices on campus has left her mostly on her own when it came to food choices.
“It would get to the point where I would skip the dining hall. I would just not go. But I’m paying for it, so I had to make some sort of effort. I remember it was just me eating some beans and a piece of pizza every day. I didn’t like that,” Patel says.
Patel says the Adanti Student Center has been a saving grace by offering vegetarian-friendly options.
“I definitely like the rice bowls there, just because I can pick whatever I want,” Patel says.
Despite Cusack-Mercedez normally cooking for herself at her dorm in North Campus Midrise, with products such as pasta, vegan ramen, and rice and beans, she says she does enjoy the student center rice bowls because she controls everything that goes into it. However, she found her time at Conn. Hall to be limited.
“I didn’t really go to Conn. that often, because usually I would just eat fruit and fries and pasta,” Cusack-Mercedez says.
Cusack-Mercedez says her favored snack is Earth Balance’s vegan cheese crackers, a copycat of Cheez-It crackers, and unfrosted strawberry Pop-Tarts.
While every vegan or vegetarian student has a different go-to option they prefer when it comes to satisfying their hunger, it seems that a common opinion among all is that Conn. Hall’s options are not cutting it.
Patel suggests a more diverse selection of non-animal products at Conn. Hall, as well as a distinct division between the vegan, vegetarian and meat options.
“If you use the same tongs to pick up a hot dog, I can’t use those tongs to pick up my veggies. It freaks me out,” Patel says.
Cusack-Mercedez says she believes there can be an improvement of dining options on campus, and offered the suggestion of “Meatless Mondays,” a popular event at restaurants to encourage vegetarians and vegans to try their food. She said it could help encourage non-meat eaters and meat eaters alike at their Conn. Hall experience.
“Even if there were just more [vegetarian and vegan] options in Conn., people would probably try them more often, and maybe other people would go vegan or vegetarian for a couple days a week. That would be amazing,” Cusack-Mercedez says.
Conn. Hall has responded to some of the suggestions pertaining to animal-free options with a few hot trays of vegetarian or vegan options, as well as their newest addition: the Impossible Burger, a popular brand of plant-based meat.
While the stigmas are never ending for animal-free lifestyles in a world of mass animal consumption, there are ways of avoiding clashing views.
Patel says she is aware that not everyone is able to participate in a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle but does hope people who are able to will try it out, and if not, that they will accept and respect those who do.
“Just be respectful of it. I’m not the type of person to be like ‘Oh, you’re eating meat?’ I’m not like that. I just practice what I preach for myself. I don’t impose it on anyone else,” Patel says.
Stigma does sometimes play a role in Patel’s life when dining with friends, especially when they encourage her to eat meat, which she says she does not crave.
“Sometimes [my friends say], ‘Oh, you would love steak,’ and yeah, I would, but I don’t want to get sick, so I’m OK,” Patel says.
Braziel says her family played a big supportive role in her decision, but the support of her peers is always an added motivation.
“It’s awesome when I meet a vegetarian because they can relate [to] what I’ve been through and give tips on what they eat too,” Braziel says.
For Cusack-Mercedez, a lot of her friends who are not vegan or vegetarian still enjoy the taste of vegan food, so she can still go out and enjoy dinner with them.
Patel loves meeting people who also choose a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle because it creates an instant connection and comfortability with that person.
“Wow—you get it. You just get it,” Patel says.