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am a freshman in college who decided one week ago to
go "cold-tofu." Our dining hall is not vegan-friendly
because there is no demand for that type of food. I
try to cook things when I can, but that isn't very often.
I also want to make sure that I continue to eat enough.
There are only side dishes offered for vegans and there
aren't any desserts. What kind of things can I do to
help change the dining hall? I also work in my dining
hall. Is it unethical as a vegan to work for a business
that uses animal products so freely?
You pose some excellent questions that
confront a large number of college students today. Because
students' schedules are generally very hectic and cooking
facilities are often limited or nonexistent, it can
be difficult to be a vegan on campus. Nevertheless,
college students are one of the fastest growing segments
of the vegan population and their influence has been
astounding. Due to the efforts of student groups around
the country, many colleges are now offering vegan, or
at least vegetarian, options at most meals.
Probably the reason these alternatives
aren't being provided at your school is because the
staff does not see a demand for them from the student
body. If you are the only person on campus who wants
meat-free meals, then their rationale would appear to
be justified. However, it's unlikely this is the case.
Because there is strength in numbers, a group can be
significantly more persuasive than a single individual.
Banding together with other vegans and vegetarians on
campus will give you much more leverage than you could
Seek out other like-minded students
and staff and make the issue as public as possible to
stimulate interest. Here are some ideas for how you
could go about this. You'll probably come up with a
lot more of your own.
- Circulate a petition around campus
for vegan and vegetarian meals.
- Prepare a library display of books
and periodicals about veganism and vegetarianism.
- Coordinate a school vegan/vegetarian
society and recruit members by placing notices in
the school paper, monthly calendars, and on bulletin
boards. (If there is a vegetarian society or animal
rights group in your city, solicit their help.)
- Arrange a presentation by a nationally-recognized
- Write an article for the school newspaper
or a letter to the editor.
- Organize a vegan potluck.
- Do an on-air interview through your
school radio station.
- Host a vegan/vegetarian education
- Set up a booth at school events to
hand out vegan literature.
- Write and circulate a vegan newsletter.
- Coordinate a screening of vegan-
and vegetarian-related videos.
- Provide vegan recipes for the food
service managers (institutional-size recipes are available
from the North
American Vegetarian Society, P.O. Box 72, Dolgeville,
New York 13329, telephone: 518-568-7970, e-mail: email@example.com,
or The Vegetarian Resource Group, P.O. Box 1463, Baltimore,
MD 21203, telephone: 410-366-8343, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org).
If you find any professors who are also
interested in vegan meals, they may be able to provide
additional support and lend authority and validity to
Even if it takes some time for your
school to comply with your requests, the side dishes
from the dining hall could still make up a meal, depending
on what is offered. However, you are right to be concerned
about getting adequate nutrition. If balanced meals
are not available in the dining hall, you will be on
your own for a while. As long as you have access to
a refrigerator, regardless of how small, a burner, a
pot or two, and maybe a toaster oven, you should be
able to cook up a few dishes or heat up a few packaged
or prepared foods. Instant soups, chili, mashed potatoes,
and flaked beans and grains can be prepared in a moment's
notice by just adding boiling water. Canned soups are
easy to heat and are relatively inexpensive. You could
have bagles, toast, or cold cereal, instant oatmeal,
or other instant hot cereal grains for breakfast along
with some fresh fruit, such as a banana or apple. For
a snack, pack some fresh and dried fruit, trail mix,
cereal or granola, vegan sports bars, pretzels, and
juices and nondairy milks in aseptic packages. For lunch
or dinner, you could have a sandwich with peanut butter
and jelly or lettuce, a bean spread with crackers or
bread, canned or instant soup (this is particularly
convenient if the dining hall has hot water available
for tea or other hot beverages), noodles with tomato
sauce (easy to heat up in your room), a veggie burger
or vegan hot dog on a bun, a cold pasta or vegetable
salad, a whole wheat tortilla stuffed with veggies from
the salad bar, and/or a few of the hot or cold side
dishes that are provided. If you have access to a natural
food store or well-stocked supermarket, you may find
handy prepared items such as spinach pies, vegan burritos,
bean dips, and salads. If there is a fast food restaurant
near campus, you could order a plain baked potato or
make one in your room or apartment. They're surprisingly
good with just ketchup and can be very filling when
topped with a thick bean soup, spread, baked beans,
or tofu sour cream. Most natural food stores have lots
of portable vegan desserts such as sweet muffins, cookies,
and pudding cups, as well as frozen nondairy desserts.
But these can often be costly and are frequently not
the most nutritious choices. If you have access to an
oven, you could occasionally host a baking party with
a few friends and make some special vegan treats to
New vegans are often very enthusiastic
about their decision, but they may also be overwhelmed
with all the changes they need to make. Adding one more
ordeal, such as switching jobs, can overburden some
people. Occupation is indeed an ethical consideration
for vegans, and if you feel your work promulgates the
use of animal-based foods, then you may want to consider
working elsewhere. On the other hand, you may be able
to more actively participate in the decision to include
of vegan options in the dining hall if you remain in
your present capacity. As long as you are aware of the
conflicts between your work and your beliefs, and are
conscious of your priorities, you will be able to determine
where you can be most effective.
Most vegans find working around meat
and other animal products to be disturbing, upsetting,
and at odds with their ethics. But each person must
weigh all of the factors in light of her or his own
circumstances. You may want to implement all the changes
you can in the dining hall and then move on once you
are confident they are securely in place. You may want
to continue to work in the dining hall but move into
a different position that deals only with the vegan
food choices. Or, if you feel too uncomfortable, you
may decide to look for another job and go about establishing
vegan options from a vantage point outside of the dining
Many vegan college students have been
incredibly successful in making lasting changes on their
campus -- changes that will impact the school and its
students long after they have graduated. You have a
daunting task ahead of you, but with determination and
grit, you'll be able to attain a higher standard of
peace and compassion for your school -- a legacy as
vital as your scholastic achievement.
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