There’s a lot of things to be excited about when studying abroad. New culture, new people, new experiences just around the corner. And for me, one is literally around the corner from my dorm room, and that is the university’s dining hall.
This is the first semester I haven’t had the same dining options available to me on campus which usually consist of…not much. My American campus had just added a “vegan station” for every lunch and dinner…except the choice was the same for both meals got repetitive very quickly, usually involving just some rice and suspicious-looking tofu.
When I first went vegan last year, I allowed my disordered eating mindset to take over because 1) I didn’t know how to healthily eat vegan, and 2) The options to begin with for vegans weren’t enough to sustain me properly. It was an equation for disaster, but luckily I’ve lived and learned. The summer was a really great opportunity for me to find my rhythm and really get a feel for a healthy vegan lifestyle I was able to carry over into the school year…except that involved buying most of the food myself and rarely using the dining plan I was required to pay for.
But now, for the first time, I am actually excited about my meal plan. I am going to school at a smaller campus, which means that the food doesn’t have to be all from frozen. The chefs on campus are ACTUALLY chefs. And there are more options in general, especially for me. When I mention to someone that I’m vegan, they already know what that means and I don’t have to explain the nitty gritty details. That in of itself is invigorating.
And the grocery store? Also fabulous. It’s so weird seeing brands like Weetabix right in front of you on a shelf when you’ve only heard of it before. I’m not picky, so it’s exciting to try new brands and items to get a taste (puns) for what a new culture has to offer. I didn’t really plan to see so many different items in a country so close to the United States, but I was wrong. Even just foods I’m already familiar with but taste differently or are made with local ingredients are a new adventure. Don’t ever get me started on the bread. If you are for reason scared of carbs, I will not hesitate to smack you with a baguette. (I kid…maybe.)
What are my options, you may ask? Obviously on rotation, but a different vegan meal every day. Fresh fruit that actually looks good. They probably will never run out of bananas. A make-your-own stir fry station. Freshly baked bread. A nice-looking salad bar and soup. The dining hall doesn’t close between certain meals and is continuously open to students. When I write it out, it doesn’t sound super special, but to me, it’s a huge difference. I specifically bought plastic containers just so I can “utilize my meal plan to its fullest capacity.” There’s a reason my campus was ranked by the Huffington Post as the second best college dining in Canada. I swear it’s a thing.
I wish this wasn’t something so out of the ordinary for me. This should be the norm at every college campus. No matter your dietary preference, if you’re obligated to pay for a meal plan, it’s the college’s responsibility to make sure to nourish and cater to every student so they perform their best. Not to mention that these meal plans can cost so much money that many students are left food insecure, or having to sacrifice their budgets on other school necessities to make ends meet. That just doesn’t make sense.
When I get back to my home campus, I’m looking forward to living in an apartment where I can make my own food so I won’t have to worry about this situation, but others might not have that luxury. Referring to vegans, especially those that live in areas where veganism still feels like a foreign concept, they might be able to continue the lifestyle if it means buying and preparing food outside of the normal school day. Having access to healthy meals should be a basic human right. We live in a first world country here. Whole vegan foods, like rice and potatoes and beans, are the cheapest foods on the planet.
I’m thinking big here, but I can picture so many people learning more about veganism and wanting to adopt the lifestyle if they receive immediate exposure through dining services and restaurants. Seeing how delicious vegan food is and tasting it for yourself is so much more convincing than strictly watching documentaries and reading about nutrition. There’s a reason it’s called a lifestyle: it’s all-encompassing. It’s meant to endure long-term. Trying some tasty food and knowing that it’s readily available is a great place to start.
I will say this a million and one times, but everybody should travel at some point in their lives. There’s a big world out there. You don’t realize all of the little differences between even the closest relating cultures until you visit. Don’t be afraid to try new foods or things; it’s all a part of the experience. Who knows, you might just stumble on some gold…which could look and taste like some awesome vegan chili and rice.
Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie