Guide to Being Vegan in College

Things every vegan college student needs to know.
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College is a great time to go vegan. You’re away from home for the first time, and have unprecedented freedom when it comes to making your food choices. So it’s no surprise that college students decide to go vegan. Here are some tips that will make the transition to vegan in college easier, more delicious, and more rewarding.

Learn

First things first: take the time to empower yourself with information—you are in college after all! Read books, watch videos, find blogs and educate yourself about nutrition. The more you learn now, the better foundation you’ll have to begin a long, healthy, happy life as a vegan!

Get Cookin’

By learning to cook and investing in a few vegan cookbooks, you can make absolutely anything vegan. There are hundreds of vegan cookbooks on the market, including some written specifically for college students. PETA’s Vegan College Cookbook is packed with 275 cheap and easy recipes that can be made using your college dorm microwave. 3-minute pancakes in a cup, anyone?

Check out our Vegan College Dorm Food Guide for a selection of foods and other essentials that will simplify and enrich your vegan life.

Follow the ‘Essential Energy Bar Rule’

One simple rule can make or break your success as a vegan: Always carry energy bars with you. Everywhere. No exceptions. Drop one in your backpack, your purse, your jacket pocket. Wherever your cell phone goes, so goes an energy bar. Why? Because eventually you will find yourself on campus for longer than expected, and you will start feeling your stomach growl. Skip the grimy hallway vending machines and instead be prepared with Clif Bars, Probars, and Larabars.

Don’t Fall into the Snack Trap!

Speaking of energy, college students are known for being epic snackers. Hard-working brains need constant fuel, right? So stock up on delicious vegan snacks so that anytime you’re tempted by ice cream or cookies you’ve got your own vegan versions on hand. Got a mini fridge? Fill it with soy yogurt, mini chocolate almond milk containers, carrots, and fruit. If you don’t have a refrigerator, there are numerous shelf stable vegan snacks like Tings, Annie’s Organic Fruit Snacks, Nana’s Cookies and Primal Strips Vegan Jerky. Most of this can be ordered online if you don’t have access to a grocery store.

Connect

Going vegan is vastly easier and more enjoyable when you have support and community. If there are not already vegans in your circle of friends, you can always seek out community online. Vegan forums, groups, organizations, bloggers are good places to look. But real-life community is important too. Find out if your college already has an animal rights or vegan organization, and if they don’t have one start your own! Also look for grassroots organizations that are active in your community. Try searching “vegetarian,” “vegan,” and “animal rights” on meetup.com to see what’s in your area.

Veganize Your Cafeteria.

Let’s face it, it’s a zillion times easier to go vegan in college if your dining hall is uber vegan-friendly. If yours isn’t (yet), it’s time to get chummy with the dining hall director. Read our 5-step plan for veganizing your dining halls. YOU can be the catalyst for change. It is the dining director’s job to make sure the dining options are suitable to all students, so (politely!) tell him or her how important it is that school cafeterias offer great vegan options! If they don’t seem to be listening, it’s time to circulate a petition, which can be delivered to the dining hall director as well as the student government and anyone else who may have a say.

Get Thrifty

You can prepare all sorts of nutritious and satisfying food right in your dorm room.  If you’ve got a mini-fridge, you’ll be able to always keep soy milk, fruits, and vegetables on hand. But even without a refrigerator you’ve got plenty of options. There’s probably nothing more hearty and affordable than whole grain breads, rice cakes, crackers, or tortillas spread with nut butter. Dried fruits are nutritious, imperishable, and available year-round—raisins, apricots, and mangoes are great choices. For optimal healthfulness read the label and avoid dried fruit made with sulfites and added sugar.

It’s not the world’s healthiest choice since it’s high in sodium, but microwavable Indian meal pouches, like the Chana Masala made by Tasty Bite, offer amazing flavor and give you a satisfying meal in minutes. Serve with a whole-grain tortilla and you’ll have a meal that will keep you satisfied for hours. Here are a few other easy vegan lunch ideas:

When it comes to saving money on food, things will really open up for you if you move off-campus or into an on-campus apartment with a full kitchen. Using a stove or a crock pot, you can save a fortune on food by cooking grain-based dishes like brown rice or oatmeal. Canned beans are likewise ridiculously cheap, so you’re always some rice, beans, and an avocado away from a cheap but super filling Mexican-style dinner. Vegetables cooked at home are always vastly cheaper than anything you can eat at a restaurant or dining hall. And a $15 steamer and a jar or two of spices is all you need to enjoy fresh and delicious veggies conveniently and on the cheap.

Don’t Take Yourself too Seriously

There’s one thing you can be sure about when you go veg: you will get nagged and pestered by friends about your diet. Whether it’s the relentless “are you sure you’re getting enough protein?” question or people dangling animal flesh in your face as if it would make you want to eat it, be ready to respond with a witty or intelligent comeback, or simply laugh it off. Check out our guide to answering the questions that every vegan gets asked again and again.

Go All The Way

You have established you values, and decision to stop supporting animal exploitation. At this point, why half-ass it? Go all the way. Start paying attention to your clothes, linens, cosmetics and household cleaners. There’s nothing that will expose you to greater ridicule than leafleting in a pair of Uggs. Make a vow right now to avoid products made from animals (leather, suede, wool, down) as well as products tested on animals (go cruelty-free!).

Vegan Outreach

It’s great that you’ve made the decision to go vegan—and by doing so you are sparing dozens of animals each year from torment. But given the state of our world today, there is no hope unless the people who care (YOU!) do more. Consider this: If you get just one friend to go vegan, you’ve suddenly doubled your impact for animals (with relatively little effort on your part). This is why so many students get involved in activism. You can order free ‘Why Vegan’ booklets from organizations like Vegan Outreach to hand out at your college. Grab a stack of leaflets, head to the busiest area of campus, and pass them out. Every hour you spend doing that could well end up sparing more than 1000 animals from harm. Here are a few other easy-activism ideas:

Have fun!

This deserves to be number one on this list. Stop thinking about what you are giving up (nasty, unhealthy, environmentally destructive and incredibly cruel products), and start thinking about all the new things you’ll be discovering and enjoying. There is a whole world of delicious food out there that you may not have even begun to explore. Plus, the best way to inspire others to go vegan is by showing how happy, healthy, vibrant and energetic it makes you! Kick your pessimism to the curb and get happy, because you’re finally rocking the most compassionate diet on the planet.

Find great dorm foods you can order online at our vegan grocery page!