3 years ago, after years of vegetarianism, I decided to choose a vegan lifestyle, and I have never looked back. Or have I?
I cannot negate the fact that, to me, the ethical, environmental and economic benefits of veganism are unprecedented, however- after my third bout of pneumonia in the last year- I am beginning to question if I am doing university veganism “right”.
The transition a year ago from living at home to living at university is one that is a tentative and difficult step for most, however, as a self-proclaimed “lazy vegan” (one that has neither the time nor the inclination to cook the perfectly manicured meals you see posted on healthy lifestyle Instagram pages) it took me by surprise that Pombears and lentil soup simply weren’t enough to support me physically or mentally. The watchful eye of one’s parental figures tends to be enough of a persuasive incentive to ensure you eat the correct vitamins and minerals, if only in stubborn reaction to their seemingly incessant comments relating to how much protein you’re missing out on without cheese in your diet; but now you are let free into a world of individualised shopping carts, untimely meals and- most alarmingly- the overbearing cloud of constantly running out of money for the semester.
It is all well and good complaining about ill health, excessive tiredness and constantly being hungry as it can be quite cathartic, but it is time to be proactive as vegan university students, and choose to put in the time to establish good dietary habits.
So, how can we maintain health as a vegan in university? Here are my new-found top tips for managing your healthy diet while balancing budget, ethics and time constraints.
1. B12. Anyone who did A Level biology will be aware that this is an incredibly important nutrient- it aids the recycling of folate in your body- and this is a crucial cofactor in DNA synthesis. You need to take a supplement to ensure you have enough of this as it is not found in a vegan diet. There are plenty of fortified drinks and cereals that will also help- but I would recommend cutting out the middle man and taking a supplement.
2. Get it fresh and steam your veggies. This applies to any diet, be it vegan, vegetarian, or omnivorous. Steaming your vegetables better preserves antioxidants and vitamins than other forms of cooking (1), and while frying stuff can taste great there seems to be so much controversy around the healthiness of oil that who knows what the scientific community currently recommend (2).
3. Don’t let your flatmates bully you out of eating “smelly” vegan cheese, or any other animal product alternative, for that matter. We all love veggies, that is really our prerogative as vegans, but calories are important! Those vegan substitutions for “normal” products like cheese, milk and cake (it’s a necessity- the government says so (3) ) are great ways to make sure you are getting enough calories, and can make great additions to your meals.
4. Protein. It’s the age-old question- “but where do you get your protein from?”. Plant proteins are amazing, so get those legumes, tofu and soy in your meals (4). It really depends on your own ethics as to whether you like to eat meat substitutes- I am a huge fan of soya mince, and the occasional Quorn nug.
5. Get everyone involved! I must admit, I am quietly infuriated by over-zealous preachers who tell people they are disgusting for eating meat; while some may believe this, is it a viable way of spreading veganism as a lifestyle choice? What I mean by this comment is, spread the love and the food. I love cooking for other people, especially when I can advertise the tastiness of vegan food and I find that cooking for others helps me keep my own nutrient profile in check.
6. Health comes first. University is stressful and both physically and emotionally taxing. You need to be as healthy as you possibly can to get the most out of your experience, and if that means taking some time out of revision to cook a good, healthful meal; taking a break from TP Wednesdays to save some money for food or even (shock horror) asking a parent or someone close to you for money/help to manage your diet and health- do it! Let me tell you- it’s not worth getting pneumonia over!