As I survey the salad bar for the umpteenth time, I catch a whiff of the Indian buffet on the other side of Gold Rush. In a feeble attempt to ignore my want for chicken curry, I pick up my bowl of lonely vegetables and walk to the table my friends and I had claimed as ours for the next hour or so. Once seated, I look down at my oil and vinegar doused salad, missing my usual choice of ranch dressing which Google confirmed was off limits.
“How long are you doing this vegan thing?” my friend Skyra Heckman inquires over a definitely-not-vegan-but-still-extremely-appetizing bowl of pasta. “I’m planning on three days.” She tells me how she doesn’t think that she could ever go vegan and to be honest, I’m not sure I could either, especially not on campus.
In retrospect, three days isn’t long at all. Compared to my cousin Kate who has been vegan for more than five years and who has been my only source of vegan knowledge, three days is insignificant. I’ve learned from her that a vegan diet is unquestionably healthier and helps protect against certain cancers, not to mention that it reduces the environmental cost of our food overall while also taking a stand against animal cruelty and animal exploitation everywhere. All of these aspects make me want to live a vegan lifestyle. However, to me, three days without cheese is a lifetime. Later, my herd of friends and I brave the bitter cold of the night for Fyre and our usual late-night meal. I stand at a kiosk and analyze the bright screen. Mozzarella sticks have dairy. Mac ‘n’ cheese bites do, too. Chicken nuggets and burgers are obviously meat. Finally, ignoring the fact that the french fries were probably fried in the same oil that the chicken was, I place my order. After my name is called out, I situate myself and dip my fries in barbecue sauce, trying not to think of the honey bees that are being exploited just so I can enjoy my food.
Though the options are limited at Fyre and Vulcan Express, it’s not that big of a deal to me in this moment, as my veganism is only fleeting. However, for students who have allergies and dietary restrictions, not being able to eat certain things isn’t an experience for an article, it’s a lifestyle. I can’t imagine being so restricted all the time, especially when you rely on another party to prepare and serve your food.Earlier today, I had emailed my neighbor, Alyssa Komoroski, on being vegan at California University of Pennsylvania. “Many of the staff here on campus are not educated when it comes to different food philosophies,” Alyssa writes. “It can be very frustrating, and it can make you feel like no one is listening or really cares.” Alyssa continues to point out how “there is a small selection for vegans, and they make the same thing every day. There is no variety.” I especially see this lack of variety while attempting to select something from one of the many vending machines stationed around the university. Those big disposing giants are home to candy bars, bags of chips, and beef jerky, all of which are not vegan. To combat the lack of snack in my life, I venture down to Dollar General in hopes to find something to eat that isn’t salad. There, in the fluorescently lit aisles, I shuffle through a variety of plastically packaged foods. I’m not used to actually reading the ingredients that make up the foods that I buy. I spin soup cans around and turn over bags of chips. Finally, I manage to walk away with a can of Pringles, jellybeans, and some trail mix. Leaving the store with a single yellow plastic bag, I feel unsatisfied. I wanted to be vegan for three days without sacrificing too much of my usual diet. The goal is to eat a healthy, balanced amount of food which also was varied each day.
Perhaps, if I commuted or lived at Vulcan Village, eating foods without dairy, eggs, honey, meat, and other animals/animal products wouldn’t be such a challenge. However, while it is possible to be one of the 1,100 residence hall students and live a vegan lifestyle, a student shouldn’t have to spend more money to make their own food just because a meal plan doesn’t offer enough options. A student also shouldn’t give up the experience of living in residence halls to meet their dietary needs.
My phone reads 11:30 pm. Close enough. I’ve gone almost 72 hours as a vegan. I take a bite of one of my chicken tenders from Fyre. I didn’t realize how much I’d miss chicken. Warm and crispy, California University of Pennsylvania may not know how to cater to vegans but they certainly know how to make a good nugget. I guess, it is possible to be a vegan, even on a college campus. It’s also definitely better for one’s health and the environment in the long run.
So, why don’t more people do it? Probably because it’s inconvenient, but also, because there aren’t enough resources offered. To me, that’s one of the most important parts. If students are the foundation of a university, then the university should be listening to what students are saying. Things are evolving and changing. College campuses are perfect places to breed new ideas and innovators and leaders.