Given current dining situations, vegan diet difficult to maintain

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I am vegan. This will not be a long rant about the glory of kale or the sins of the meat industry. I hate talking about those stupid vegan stereotyped topics anyways. Instead, I want to discuss something much more basic — food — and something a lot less controversial: how bad the dining halls at the College of William and Mary can be for vegans.

First, I have to give Dining Services their due credit. They try, and I recognize it is a demanding undertaking to make so much food so quickly and to include so many selections. Adding dietary restrictions to the mix makes the process even more challenging.

Many of the same concerns exist in the vegan section as in the rest of the dining halls – inconsistent labeling, dishes that lack flavor, and minimal variation in the available foods. However, there is a unique issue for the vegan section, a potentially dangerous disconnect between the chefs and the students: the mistaken belief that vegans can subside on vegetables, vegetables and more vegetables.

This is not the case. Vegans are human beings. We cannot subsist solely on sweet potatoes, broccoli and eggplant. We need pasta, burritos and cookies. If you think that it is “healthy” to eat fruit and toast for breakfast, salad for lunch, and tofu with asparagus for dinner every single day, then you are sadly mistaken.

While at college in my first semester, this was a huge problem. The freshman 15 meant losing 15 pounds. When I went home for the holidays, my friends and family commented on how skinny I looked; one of my friends used the word “skeletal.” When I went to the doctor for a check-up during winter break, I weighed a mere 99 pounds. At a height of 5 feet 3 inches, this qualifies as underweight.

My parents are aware of how much I value environmental health. They raised me as a vegetarian and respected my choice to go vegan.

Nevertheless, after my visit to the doctor, they became very worried. They urged me to be more careful about my diet; my mom insisted that I read books about vegan nutrition for young people, and my dad proposed that I keep a diary documenting my caloric intake. I agreed to their requests, and we decided that by President’s Day I would gain at least five pounds.

Now that I have returned to the College for the second semester, I am trying my best to keep that promise, but many obstacles still exist. When I go to the dining hall, I can never be sure if something is vegan or not. There are times when a certain item that I think is vegan (e.g. beans, hummus or squash) carries a label of vegetarian instead, but there is no indication of what animal products are present that merit this classification.

The remaining options that carry designations of “vegan” are not satisfactory either. Not only are the dishes unappetizing, but they also have very low caloric contents. That means I must force myself to consume a great deal of bland, substandard food in order to stay healthy, which makes meals even more distasteful. Furthermore, the rare times when desserts appear in the vegan section, the items do not have labels, so I can never be sure if they contain dairy or eggs.

Beyond Sadler and the Caf, there are more problems. My friends will often go out of their way to eat at Marketplace. While they feast on burgers, pizza and ice cream, I instead have a choice between salad, fruit and coffee. The only vegan meals at Cosi are salad and vegetable soup. At [Swem] Aroma’s, there is yet more salad and more coffee. The idea that I pay more than $4,600 a year for such options is appalling.

I have serious doubts that I will be able to maintain a vegan lifestyle on campus. After about three weeks back at the College, I am still underweight. I do not want to continue to lose weight, but I also want to remain a vegan. I do not want to starve for my beliefs, but sacrificing my values for my health is similarly unacceptable.

It is time to acknowledge the significant vegan and vegetarian communities on campus, to improve our facilities and to include nourishing vegan options that taste good. This is not a frivolous request; it is a matter of survival.

Email Gabrielle Jawer at [email protected]