Story by: Molly Nutt
Even though major restaurant chains have added vegan menus, elite athletes have attributed veganism to increased performance and celebrities have professed their commitment to the lifestyle, I still sometimes find myself saying,
“I’m vegan,” as if it’s an expletive.
There’s no doubt that the fringe movement has gone mainstream, so what will it take to lose the negative stigma? Whenever I tell people that I’m vegan, they usually say, “I’m glad you’re not that vegan that shoves it down people’s throats.” Although I’m thankful people don’t think that of me, I think it says volumes about what people assume vegans are like. I’ve never even met that vegan, and truthfully, I’m not even sure if that vegan exists. Is it just a socially constructed stereotype perpetuated by hilarious memes on social media? Veganism is full of misconceptions, just like any subculture. Knowledge is power, so let’s break it down.
According to Webster’s Dictionary, a vegan is “one who consumes no food coming from animals.” This means meat, eggs, milk, cheese, butter and any other animal byproduct. Most vegans would feel like this definition only tells half of the story, since veganism also dovetails with opinions on animal rights and environmental protection. Although universally all vegans chose the lifestyle for similar reasons, it’s important to not make assumptions about what someone that follows a vegan life style will be like. “People always want to group vegans together and act like we’re all the same,” says Krista Kok, a junior graphic design major who has been vegan for three years. “I think the judgement comes from people just not knowing much about it. We’re not all hippies, some of us just don’t just want to eat animal products.”
What’s the Point?
Every person has their own reason for choosing a vegan diet.
For me, it started when I was trying to find a natural way to reduce inflammation in my body in hopes of helping a knee injury. All the research pointed me in the direction of eliminating animal products from my diet, so I decided to try out vegetarianism. After a year of being vegetarian, I decided to take the next step and give veganism a shot. Reading the book “Eating Animals” by Jonathan Safran Foer left the greatest impact on me and opened my eyes to the grim realities of the meat industry. After doing more research and watching documentaries about industrialized farming, I was in sheer disbelief about how much consumers don’t know about what goes on. Arcelia Kent, who stopped eating meat over two decades ago and has been vegan for now for 14 years, uses her website EburgVeg to inform the Ellensburg community about where to find vegan options in town and educate about veganism. Her choice to become vegan stemmed from a desire to take responsibility for her impact on the earth.
“I figured I can’t fix the world, but I can certainly watch what I’m doing.”
Kendall Collins, a freshman at CWU, was initially drawn to veganism for the health benefits. “I watched a lot of documentaries and did a lot of research on it. For a while I thought that veganism was too extreme, but once that I was vegetarian for two years I really started looking into what veganism is and why people do it,” she says. “I realized all the health benefits, tried it for two weeks and never went back.”Talking about veganism from a health perspective is fairly easy. Everyone has diets they follow and it’s normal for people to try new eating habits. Not eating meat isn’t usually what makes people uncomfortable, but why vegans don’t eat meat is often what causes controversy. People don’t want to talk about the slaughterhouses, conditions livestock are raised in or the environmental impact of industrialized farming. If you are curious about some statistics or want more information, I encourage you to watch the documentary “Eating Animals” to get a glimpse of what it means to eat animals in our industrialized world.
The College Vegan
I’m from Portland, Ore., which according to CNN, Peta and VegNews, is one of the best places to be vegan in the country. From vegan restaurants, bakeries, bars, clothing shops, furniture makers and more, Portland has become an epicenter for the vegan culture. When I’m home I feel like I’m surrounded by a community of people who understand and appreciate what it means to be vegan. Coming to a town like Ellensburg is completely different. In an agricultural town that thrives on the yearly rodeo, veganism can be seen as taboo to some. Kent’s website, EburgVeg, offers restaurant guides for local vegans and tries to initiates conversations with restaurant owners about why including vegan options would be beneficial for them too. “Some people say they’ll follow up, but they don’t. A lot of times they just ignore me. Th at’s why I really try to highlight the restaurants when they’re accepting,” says Kent. She mentions that Cafe C5 and the Lunchbox Cafe were extremely receptive and offer some great vegan options. I’ve noticed the CWU population to be a little more knowledgeable and curious when I tell them I’m vegan. I think it helps that a lot of students come here from Seattle, which is also dubbed as one of the most vegan-friendly hubs. A recent report compiled by market research firm Nielsen Holdings found that plant-based food sales grew 20 percent last year, a growth rate that’s 10 times faster than all other food categories. With that in mind, there’s no doubt that dining on campus hasn’t caught up with the trend by adding vegan-friendly options. Since Central dining services doesn’t receive any federal funding and relies on the revenue it makes to operate, they serve what students traditionally demand. I questioned whether or not their pursuit of maximizing revenue through the sale of unhealthy options comes at the expense of student’s health. The new Director of Dining Services himself, Dean Masuccio, knows what brings in the big bucks.
“Since dining services is an auxiliary enterprise, what they serve to students is entirely at their discretion.”
“On any college campus across the nation, the top five selling items are typically the unhealthy options. It’s burgers, pizza, coffee, fries and soda. We really can’t take those five away, but we can include many other options,” he says. This means that the decisions made by the director and head chef impacts the health of thousands of students. Consumers worldwide are demanding plant-based alternatives at a steadily increasing rate, yet our dining on campus hasn’t followed suit as quickly. “Some of [the education on healthy choices] could come from a dietician, but we need the leader to be gung-ho about the initiative, it trickles down from the top,” says Dining Services Dietician, Emily Shaw. “I think there are going to be a lot of changes in the positive direction in the next couple of years.” I transferred to CWU and luckily never had to depend on campus dining services for vegan options. Collins, however, has experienced what it’s like this year firsthand. “It’s definitely hard sometimes. The first few weeks I had to figure out what my options were. I bought the smallest meal plan on purpose, that way I could go to the grocery store still and buy my own food,” she says. This fall, Masuccio joined CWU as the new dining services director after spending 18 years in food services at University of Washington. Although from an administrative standpoint, there’s no doubt that his bottom line will be generating revenue, it was refreshing to hear his plans for adding more healthful options for students on campus to choose from. “As we look to redesign our menu, we want to have more inclusive offerings. If it’s one item or one ingredient that’s making the dish not vegan, how critical is that one ingredient?” says Masuccio. “It’s decisions like that we will be planning. Conversations like that have already been started.”
Cost of Veganism
Often, people shy away from veganism because they assume their wallets can’t handle it. However, eating a natural plant-based diet is much cheaper than the carnivorous alternative. If you’re a broke college kid like me, consider subbing out chicken breast for beans. Your wallet (and the chicken) will thank you. “If you’re eating in a way that you’re subbing meat for processed meat, or subbing cheese for processed cheese, it is more expensive,” says Kent. “But if you make meals with plants, it’s cheap. Think of beans, rice and other cheap pantry staples, those are all vegan.” When you take meat out of your shopping cart and replace it with things like beans, legumes, nuts and seeds, not only are you increasing your variety of nutrients, but you instantly save at checkout. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average national cost of boneless chicken breast in 2018 was $3.11 per pound, where beans were only $1.30 per pound. “A lot of times people worry about not getting enough protein, but for the most part protein isn’t an issue. Most Americans in general are never short in protein,” says Shaw.
It seems like our society is constantly searching for the optimal diet. Whether that means trying Keto, Whole30, Paleo or Weight Watchers, mass media likes to talk about the latest and greatest diets. In fact, Baum + Whitman, a world-renowned restaurant consulting agency, dubbed plant-based eating as the most popular food trend of 2018 and 2019. Most vegans would agree, though, that veganism is more profound than just eating plant-based. “I don’t like it when people treat veganism as a diet, because then they won’t stick to it. I don’t think children would choose eating animals naturally, but they are just desensitized to it as they grow up,” says Kent, who has raised her four-year-old son as a vegan. Since celebrities and elite athletes are endorsing veganism, I think the negative stigma is slowly fading. Vegan options are scattering the shelves of grocery stores, restaurants are tagging themselves as vegan-friendly and even Taco Bell is rolling out a vegan menu. The global shift away from eating animal products is here to stay. What was once nothing but a fringe movement now has a place in society, and it’s our generation that’s spearheading the movement.