It's not easy being Green

Marisol Contreras

FOR THE QC

Jan. 2, 2017 was the day that I chose to be vegan — not just in diet, but in lifestyle. Being raised in a very traditional Mexican family, it was hard for me to cut animal products out of my diet. One, because the traditional Mexican foods are very un-vegan, and two, because the good taste of these traditional foods outweighed the immorality of the consumption of animals. Given that I am lactose intolerant and that meat and eggs always leave me with an upset stomach, being vegan seemed very attractive to me throughout high school, and I felt more compelled to do what is best for my health rather than what is culturally appropriate. What held me back from pursuing this lifestyle was the anti-vegan stigma in my culture. Anytime I made a passing reference to cutting animal products out of my diet, my family members would say that I would end up being anemic, or that I would not be able to eat anything, or that I would not have a strong enough will to resist eating animal products. Once I began college, however, I realized that, without my family hovering over me, I could have the freedom to try out the vegan lifestyle without being scolded for not eating enough protein. So, midway through my first year of college, I came to this realization and, after eating my last New Year’s tamal, I decided that I would be vegan in every sense of the word. While making this choice was easy, the hard part came when I realized how few vegan-friendly food options there are at the Campus Inn.

When a student lives on campus, it is required that they purchase a meal plan for the semester. This is stated in multiple places on the Whittier College website as well as on the Housing & Meal Agreement Form. However, during my time dorming, I have realized that it isn’t all that necessary for the Campus Inn to have food compatible with special diets. During Jan Term of 2017 and Spring Term of 2017, I was content with sad vegetable purees, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and coffee. However, as time went on, I realized that it was unfair for me to be paying for a meal plan as an on-campus student when the meals that were available to me were in direct conflict with my lifestyle choice.

For instance, take a look at the food offered in the CI this past week (Monday, Oct. 8 through Sunday Oct. 14). While there are some vegan options offered at every meal, the breakfast items are always the same, and, more often than not, the lunch and dinner options for one day are the same. On average, about 24 percent of the breakfast items listed on the menus emailed daily are vegan. For brunch, it is just 20 percent of items, for lunch, 16 percent and for dinner, 30 percent. Overall, this averages out to approximately 23 percent of menu items being vegan on any given day. Frankly, as a student who is struggling to pay their own way through college, it doesn’t seem at all fair for me to have to pay the full price of a meal plan when my dietary needs are not being met. 

Sure, I elected to be vegan, so this isn’t the biggest of tragedies. But, were I to break my veganism this far into it, I would feel physically ill. I have accidentally done this in the CI numerous times due to the mislabeling of foods (specifically, they do not list cheese as an ingredient, but do in fact contain cheese), and I have intentionally because I miss the food of my culture. Every single time that this has happened, I have been left with a lingering stomach ache for days and am in great physical pain immediately after consuming any non-vegan foods (especially foods containing dairy). Now, not wanting to deal with this pain, I often just skip meals or settle for nothing more than a banana or a cup of coffee in place of an actual meal.

The Vegan Society, a registered educational charity that provides information and guidance on various aspects of veganism, recommends that in order to meet basic human nutrition needs, every meal must contain starchy foods, most meals should contain protein-rich foods, and daily food consumption should involve fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, and calcium rich foods. A banana doesn’t come close to meeting these nutrition requirements, much less a cup of coffee. In a typical week in the CI, I have seen that there is a sufficient array of fruits and vegetables available, a slightly lesser amount of starchy foods available, an inconsistent availability of protein-rich and calcium-rich foods, and a scarcity of nuts and seeds. While I ultimately chose to be vegan for the betterment of my health, the types of foods that have been made available to me in the CI have prevented me from doing so. 

According to the 2018 – 2019 Schedule of Charges, the cheapest meal plan that a student can get (which is the 10 meals a week plan) comes to an annual cost of $6,146. This cost, then, comes roughly to a weekly price of $439. Given that only approximately 23 percent of the weekly menu items are vegan (as I stated earlier), I am only able to consume what comes out to just over $100 worth of food a week. So, every week I am overpaying just to be continually disappointed.

The saddest part of all of this is that being vegan is all about being morally correct – a very simple, but very noble. pursuit. However, in my time at Whittier College, I have come to realize that this just treatment is not reciprocated by Bon Appétit. All I ask is that more vegan options be made available in the CI. Sure, I can continue to eat sad little salads, boring steamed veggies, and random pieces of fruit, but, frankly, this is just depressing. I just want to have a good meal and get all the vitamins and nutrients that I need to be a healthy human being. The only problem is that the foods that I need to do this aren’t widely accessible to me. It is hard enough having to defend my lifestyle choice to my anti-vegan family. I don’t need my family to worry about my well-being even more due to the lack of food available to me. The biggest argument that I hear against veganism is that people end up being vitamin deficient, so why doesn’t Bon Appétit or Whittier College care about giving vegans on campus viable food options?

Contact me at mcontre3@poets.whittier.edu if you’d like to know more about the numbers that I used to support this.