For many individuals, college provides an opportunity to try new things: paths of academic interest, internships, identities, and alike. Maybe for the first time, you're not under the wary eye of your parents and you feel like you have the opportunity to be whoever you want to be! I've found that many of the people who are currently vegan were allotted the chance to change their dietary patterns in college and have stuck with it since. 

I grew up in a household with two omnivorous parents. It wasn't practical for me to eat differently than they did, so I wasn't able to pursue ethical veganism until I arrived at UVM in 2017. The start of my journey into a vegan lifestyle was certainly rocky- and mostly because I didn't really have many resources at my disposal to make a sustainable transition.

Here are some of my tips for how to transition to a plant-based diet in college. Even if you're not exactly "sold" on veganism, they're tips that you can use to eat more healthily in college. 

Make fruits and veggies a major feature of every plate. 

This doesn't just go for vegans, but rather anyone and everyone looking to adopt healthier dietary practices. The standard American diet features meat as a main portion of the dish, often accompanied by large portions of starch (e.g., pasta and potatoes), and a small serving of fruits/veggies. I try to make whole fruits and veggies between 50-70% of my plate's volume. 

Besides noting the proportions of fruits & veggies on my plate, one trick I found works well is to put the fruits/veggies on my plate before I add starches and fats. This trick maximizes the volume of whole fruits & veggies you're consuming. You could also consider starting your meal by eating fruits and veggies, and then going back for another plate of starch/fats/etc. afterwards. This minimizes food waste and controls the portions on your plate. 

Don't omit protein and fat from your diet. 

As a summer camp counselor, some of my campers genuinely thought that vegans only ate grass. They might have only been seven years old, but they express a similar sentiment as many adults: that vegans can survive on raw fruits and veggies alone. Not only is this emotionally sad (because who would want to live in a world without pasta and bread??), but it's also detrimental to health. We all need protein and fat in their diet so the brain can communicate messages to the rest of our body, repair muscles, and grow. Vegans don't get a free pass just because we don't get our protein and fat from meat!

Good sources of protein and fat include beans, nuts, seeds, soy, oils, and alike. Some people might opt to eat meat alternatives (i.e. Impossible Burgers, veggie sausages, and chik'n), but I don't find their taste (nor their ingredients) appetizing. You'll also find that whole grains like quinoa can be a good source of fats and protein as well! 

Try to cook for yourself once in awhile. 

Dining halls are so convenient! You can simply walk in, take what you want, eat, and leave. But that doesn't give you much agency over your diet, nor does it teach culinary skills that help establish good dietary practices for later on in life. Get together with some friends once or twice a week to cook a meatless meal together! Many colleges also offer cooking classes for students, so dig into what resources your campus might offer. 

Strive for variety. 

Nutrition science tells us we need a diet that pulls vitamins, minerals, and macronutrients from a variety of sources. If you're only eating carrots (I ate a pound of carrots daily this summer and can attest to the following statement) your skin will turn orange AND you'll develop deficiencies in other critical nutrients. To counteract this, make sure to eat as much variety as you can. I try to have 2-3 different colors of foods on my plate at every meal. 

Seek help from campus support groups or a dietitian. 

Colleges offer tons of resources, groups, and teams to help students make sustainable lifestyle shifts. See if your college offers student health services related to dietary needs; they might include visits with a dietician to help design meal plans for students. Your school might also have an established vegan/vegetarian club that can provide networking opportunities and peer-support. 

Be forgiving with yourself.

You will mess up. You will forget to read a label once and awhile. You will accidentally take a bite into something and say "there's no way this doesn't have milk/eggs/meat in it." And that's all part of the learning process.

What I think we forget to realize is how hard it is to become a vegan or a vegetarian in a world dominated by animal agriculture. Although small steps have been made to increase the available options to consumers at grocery stores and restaurants, there is still a lot of misinformation and disconnects surrounding what it means to be plant-based. The lifestyle itself is no small feat and requires immense diligence; I would argue it even requires an element of humility. You have to have some sort of moral "buy-in" to the ethics of a plant-based lifestyle. 

Every small step made towards a plant-based planet deserves to be recognized, regardless of scale. You're giving up a part of your life (and if you're American, your predominant cultural lifestyle) in pursuit of something bigger than yourself. That's both admirable and something we (as a plant-based community) need to focus on more often.