How To Go Vegan as a Poor College Student (Without Moving Into the Wilderness and Eating Exclusively Kale Chips)

and how johnny depp is secretly a banana

How does one smoothly become a vegan without eating pasta for every meal/selling your soul to Whole Foods/giving up and moving to the Yukon to hide yourself from shame?  You believe (and rightly so, in my humble opinion) that kale is just glorified cardboard, you’re afraid of people thinking you’re just going through a weird phase, and – this is the biggest issue – you cannot possibly afford to eat exclusively at Trader Joes like some queen who spends her nepotism on rice noodles and coconut water.  So if you’re a poor college student or simply curious about this strange and increasing group of vegans around you – where on earth do you start? Well, it’s not as hard as it may look.

SIDEBAR: Generally, the three sections of veganism are as follows: environmental benefits, animal rights/anti-meat industry, and health*. Within these categories are all sorts of extremities: some people believe that we shouldn’t be using animals for our benefit in any way at all, and pickett openly. Others quietly watch food documentaries in the dark of their own home and eat tofu secretly at work. But this isn’t just a recent trend – even some of our ancestors/relatives, the apes, are vegan. That’s right– gorillas love obscure hipster vegetables just as much as you do, and you’d better get used to it. However, the first time the term “vegetarianism” was used is credited to an actress named Fanny Kemble in 1839. But Wikipedia cites that even Greek philosophers like Theophrastus didn’t eat meat. Apparently a man named Porphyry in the 6th century wrote a book arguing that if humans deserved equal rights, so did animals. For a while in the 1800s there were “vegan communities” that opened in Massachusetts where bands of vegans and vegetarians would live, like a weirdo outcast colony of people who love salads. (I can only imagine how horrifically and tragically unpopular they were.) Then, of course you have more famous historical vegetarians like Gandhi and Albert Einstein who promoted animal rights and the health that comes from a vegan lifestyle. Now we have talented people like Jessica Chastain and River Phoenix speaking out in favor of a vegan lifestyle – even Beyonce tried it.


It’s really intimidating to just stop eating multiple food groups that you’ve grown accustomed to. So you need to make sure that this is actually something you want to commit to. If it is, then begin by learning more about veganism – even if you already think you know everything from a single documentary, don’t stop there. Research the various reasons people go vegan, and identify why you want to make the change. Once you better understand the various aspects of vegan-related diets like global warming, factory farming, and health issues, it’s easier to stay committed to the lifestyle. Learn about the benefits of veganism so that you can better answer the awkward questions about why on earth you decided to give up bacon and nachos. One really great place to start is this fact sheet. Lastly, accept that some people will feel the need to attack you for your choice, and know that having a conversation with them will be anything but productive for the both of you, so it’s best to just brush off their questions with light hearted answers and casual change-of-subjects.


Once you have a better understanding of the facts behind it all, take it one step at a time. Meat and dairy products can be super addictive, and it will take your taste buds and brain a while to switch gears. Many people suggest starting by using substitutes, or taking one food group out at a time. Soy milk is actually pretty inexpensive as far as a college budget goes, and it comes in flavors like vanilla to make cereal even better. It will take a few weeks for your cheerios to become used to a new liquid, but you’ll make it, and they’ll make it, and everyone can just calm down till then. Cheese is difficult to find a good substitute for in an average grocery store, so that will take some adjusting to. I’d recommend picking one food to eliminate each week, and one food to replace it with. For example, one week try to avoid butter and replace it with Earth Balance, which is a really effective and relatively cheap butter substitute that you can find at most stores. And don’t discount meat alternatives- I’ve had fake chicken that causes me actual fear because it tastes like the real deal, despite being bought in the frozen food meat-free section of Smiths.


Once you’ve transitioned to a fully meat-free and dairy-free diet, start with simple groceries and recipes. Bananas are handy to the point of suspicion – how can one fruit be so versatile? They are, essentially, the Johnny Depp of foods: you never know what role they will take next. They can replace eggs, be used on toast, eaten on the run, and are generally the cheapest thing in the produce aisle. College budgets are made for bananas. But most importantly: Banana ice cream. I always laughed at people who claimed this was possibly at the same level as my all time addiction for custard. But I was so wrong. There’s so many great vegan ice creams but they all cost so much you might as well take out a mortgage on them. Instead, just freeze diced-up bananas, then blend them up with vanilla and a tiny bit of water. I add frozen berries for flavor, some people add chocolate– just get wild with it.

Apart from my passion for bananas, there are tons of inexpensive vegan foods so wonderful you never realized you could still eat them. Most cereals are vegan (just watch out for gelatin in Lucky Charms and the like – it’s made of bone marrow), most pastas are vegan, beans are dirt cheap, rice is amazing, lettuce and salad dressings are essential, and bulk frozen vegetables are so much cheaper than fresh. Don’t forget about tacos, or mashed potatoes, french fries, even Oreos– all these comfort foods are vegan and cheap. It can be easy to see a crowd of expensive fancy vegan food and feel like you have to own your own island in order to buy really expensive produce, but it just takes a few weeks to learn where to look in the grocery store and you’ll come to realize that vegan food isn’t actually all that expensive And if you’re ever curious about the veganistic (Yes, I just made that word up) nature of a food, just email or call the company (if it’s not already in the FAQ of the website) – it’ simple information most employees will already know.

And as far a supplementing the diet goes, it’s agreed that most vegans need to take a B12 pill, which provides the only vitamin that you miss out on in a vegan diet. B12 is a bacteria, so it’s not inherently an animal product, but most people get it from the stomachs of animals that they eat. B12 deficiencies wouldn’t be an issue for a vegan diet, if it weren’t for the fact that we have strict sanitation practices for produce, so the B12 bacteria is generally gone by the time your plant-based meal reaches you. (But if you grow your own food or live in a developing country, you can usually get B12 from microorganisms in your water and plants.) Other than that, a vegan diet is extremely healthy and high in protein from foods like spinach and oats and nuts.


There’s an amazing vegan community online that can provide support as you transition to veganism even if your parents, friends, and various acquaintances think you’re going insane. Bloggers like Essena Oneill and Ella Grace Denton write recipes and form communities, while people like Timothy Shieff speak out at a global level to everyone from athletes to filmmakers. Get on Tumblr, Twitter, Instagram, or go to weird cafes and find fellow vegans. Finding vegan friends will make this so much easier, trust me.


PETA has a great feature on their site where you can search various brands and see if they’re vegan or not. You don’t have to buy some expensive high-end indie beauty brand because they’re the only vegan one you can find – even brands like Herbal Essences and E.L.F. proclaim that they’re animal-cruelty and animal-product free. (For more specific skincare needs though, I highly recommend glossier and It just takes a few quick google searches.

So, if you’ve pulled yourself together after crying over Earthlings and in the aftermath of your used-tissue fort you’ve decided that once and for all you want to go vegan – don’t be overwhelmed. Take it one step at a time, and don’t be afraid to eat “how are these possibly vegan” Oreos on nights when you’re all tofu-d out.

*(look up factory farms and brace yourself, someone once said that if factory farms and slaughterhouses had glass walls we would all be vegans. Also, over half the USA’s water is used for the production of animal products. And the meat industry affects global warming more than the entire transportation system.)


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