Oxford dictionary defines a vegetarian as, “A person who does not eat meat or fish, and sometimes other animal products…” Many people choose make the switch to a plant-based, meat-free diet for a variety of personal reasons including ideological, religious, health related, or other.
As I started my sophomore year of college, I realized more and more that I wanted to become a vegetarian. I’ll admit that I don’t have a deep, thought provoking reason for making this switch but I don’t think it’s necessary to have one. My whole life I have never been much of a meat-eater, I could enjoy a good burger or some chicken nuggets but it was never really something I sought out and, if given the choice, I would usually choose the vegetarian option anyway. I figured that college is a time to try new things (as cliché as it sounds) so I might as well try it out and see if vegetarianism was the right fit for me.
Soon after I made this decision however, I realized there were some definite challenges to being both a busy college student on campus and a vegetarian. Not that it was impossible by any means, thousands of other college students are vegetarians and obviously make it work, but it was definitely a learning process the first few weeks and still is as I adjust to these new habits. Thankfully, I had some friends who were already vegetarians (one who has been for over ten years) to help show me the ropes.
Here are just a few of the things I’ve learned so far that will hopefully help if you’re interested in becoming a full-fledged vegetarian or even just making small changes to your diet while in college.
1. The dining hall is definitely still an option (which is good if you’re on a required meal plan)
One thing I worried about was if I’d be able to find things to eat in the dining hall given that I usually have 1-2 meals there a day. I soon realized that this was nothing to be worried about. I’m not sure if this is the case at all schools but I have found that my school is particularly good at not only providing ample vegetarian options but also clearly labeling the dishes that are being served. Most of the labels will explicitly state “vegetarian” or even “vegan” which takes the guess work out of picking what to eat entirely. Additionally, there are campus wide “Meatless Mondays” in which everyone is encouraged, but not forced, to not eat meat.
2. The salad bar will be your new BFF.
Most, if not all, college dining halls will have something at least somewhat resembling a salad bar. If you’re making the switch to vegetarianism, get yourself acquainted with this section of the dining hall ASAP. That’s not to say that all vegetarians eat salads or that it is all that they eat by any means but I’ve found that salads are a quick, filling alternative if nothing else is looking appetizing on a particular trip to the dining hall. Take advantage of the all the different salad fixings available and find out what combination you enjoy most.
3. Make sure you are getting enough nutrients after you switch.
Something health related to keep in mind after you become a vegetarian is to make sure you are not lacking essential nutrients as you adjust your diet. You will need to make sure that you are getting enough protein and iron in your diet, two nutrients common in meat. This can be as simple as eating non-meat foods that are rich in these nutrients such as lentils, tofu, quinoa, black beans, and a variety of other alternatives. Since everyone’s dietary needs are different it might be helpful to consult your doctor or the nutritionist on campus before becoming a vegetarian to make sure you are able to stay as healthy as possible.
4. Feel free to mention becoming a vegetarian if it comes up in conversation…
Other than figuring out what to eat in the dining hall and discovering the salad bar, another aspect that came with becoming a vegetarian was letting my friends know about the switch. My friends that were already vegetarians were really supportive but I could tell that some of my other non-vegetarian friends didn’t really understand why I was making the switch. It’s fine if you don’t want to make a big deal about it (and you probably shouldn’t) but if the topic happens to come up in conversation with friends there’s no reason you shouldn’t share with them and hope for at least their respect, if not their support of your decision. After all, college is about learning from others, both in and out of the classroom.
5. …but don’t be THAT person about it.
You know the one I’m talking about. The person who is constantly bringing up their vegetarianism and who is always ready to lecture at length about animal cruelty or the “dangers of eating meat.” While these are important issues that should be discussed, there is a time and a place for these discussions and I can guarantee that a Friday night frat party is neither the time nor the place. If every conversation about vegetarianism is turning into a lecture you should reevaluate your actions and also make sure that you are respecting everyone’s choices, given that you expect the same from them.
While making the switch to vegetarianism may require a bit more planning and thoughtfulness when it comes to going to the dining hall for a quick meal and it might be tricky at first, in the long run it can be more than worth it to try something new and see if it is the right fit for you.