By Morgan McFall-Johnsen
I’ve always been absolutely amazed by and kind of concerned for vegans. What do they eat? Where do they find it? Do they ever go out to eat and, if so, do they order something weird and specific that takes half an hour to describe to the waiter? How do they eat with non-vegan friends? Do they feel like outcasts all the time? And is it true that they constantly talk about how vegan they are?
I already don’t eat meat (with the exception of holidays) because of the environmental impact of its production. While I rarely eat eggs if they’re not an ingredient in a larger dish, I’m sure they sneak their way into my diet more often than I know. And I barely make any effort to cut out dairy, despite the fact that the production of these animal products has a negative environmental impact, just like the production of meat. Since I’m kind of lactose intolerant, veganism seemed like a good idea for my health too. I feel like humans aren’t supposed to drink other animals’ milk anyway.
So I decided I’d step into the life of a vegan for just one week, taking advantage of the safety net that Northwestern dining offers with its vegan options at every meal. I would have the cushioned experience of a college-student-in-the-USA vegan. It would be an easy, simple way to try on the lifestyle and see how it fit me.
Day 1: Sunday
Day one. I didn’t think this whole vegan thing would be too hard. Omitting eggs and dairy didn’t seem like a big deal. Until I realized that Nutella contains dairy. A whole week without Nutella? Or any other chocolate, for that matter! (unless I went out of my way to buy vegan chocolate, which I just don’t have the time or energy for)
Anyway, I had lunch at Allison. It was vegan macaroni, steamed broccoli and carrots. The macaroni was surprisingly good. It had beans in it. I love beans. Beans make everything better.
Dinner was also at Allison. I spent the entirety of Sunday in Main Library, so Allison was the obvious choice. I had rice with chickpeas and raisins, that cauliflower and potato curry they serve at least once a week, kale, and tuscan white bean soup. Very impressive. The chickpeas and raisins were actually a nice flair. And once again, beans.
Day 2: Monday
I went to Hinman for lunch and was immediately reminded why I never go there. There were absolutely no vegan options besides the salad bar. I scraped by with mushrooms and tomatoes on salad, hummus, broccoli, pears, and a banana with peanut butter. Unfortunately, the tomatoes were very old and gross. Overall, 2 out of 10, would not recommend. Hinman reminded me that the only dining halls for me are Allison and Sargent.
So I went to Allison again for dinner and it made up for my sad lunch. All the options looked good, so I pretty much got all of them: portobello mushroom quinoa, quinoa strawberry spinach salad, butternut squash, sweet potatoes, and tomato florentine soup.
That was pretty amazing, but can we please talk about the dining halls’ sketchy labeling? I would prefer that my vegan tomato florentine soup does not contain milk and eggs. Thanks, Sodexo.
Day 3: Tuesday
Lunch was at Sargent. It was pretty simple: just butternut squash soup and carrots. I had a banana with almond butter for dessert (normally I would also have Nutella with that, but veganism). I like Sargent’s butternut squash soup, but the broth always tastes like beef to me. And considering Allison’s suspicious labeling, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was beef broth.
Dinner at Sargent was cold green bean salad, broccoli, and “turkish bulgur pilaf with garbanzo beans.” Because of its appearance and because I have no idea what “bulgur” is, the turkish chickpea dish wasn’t something I would’ve normally picked if I had other choices but, due to veganism, I had no other choice. It wasn’t bad, but if I were a picky eater by virtue of taste, I probably wouldn’t like it.
The green bean salad had some kind of vinaigrette on it that was so acidic that it kind of burned my tongue.
I was expecting some withdrawals by now: missing cheese, craving chocolate, and crying over Nutella. But I didn’t really miss or crave anything. I may keep dairy products out of my diet for good (with the same holiday exceptions I make for meat, and also with the exception of Nutella). I even did fine without Nutella – almond butter and banana was somehow a sufficient substitute.
Day 4: Wednesday
This was going to be a long day, so I had a pretty solid breakfast in my room: a rice cake with almond butter and a banana. This week I must’ve eaten at least two bananas every day. I used them in lieu of my usual dessert consumption and it probably made me a thousand times healthier. #potassiumgod
I had lunch at Allison: brown rice with vegetable stir fry and roasted tofu and american vegetable soup. The roasted tofu is so good, but they ran out pretty quickly and replaced it with seitan (which tastes like a rubber shoe heel), so I couldn’t get seconds. And the soup had beans. You know how I feel about beans.
Guess what else they had in the vegan section? Vegan chocolate cake. Thank God. It was amazing. I ate so much of it. I really do need chocolate in my life.
I had dinner at Allison too, and was confronted by some very tempting vegetarian egg rolls. I had never seen them in the dining hall and knew I might never see them again. This was my only chance to try one. Why couldn’t they have served them last week? There was also a tantalizing stir fry that undoubtedly had egg in it. Why are eggs and dairy so central to so many good foods?
But, alas, I settled for couscous with eggplant, broccoli and potatoes. It was pretty basic. Nothing special. I don’t want to talk about it.
Day 5: Thursday
This entire day was very redeeming. Sargent restored my faith in the dining halls.
For lunch, at Sargent, I had sweet potatoes, broccoli, and cold rice with beans, corn and tomatoes that Sargent serves as a side dish pretty often. It has beans. ‘Nuff said. And sweet potatoes are always a direct path to my heart. You can’t go wrong with sweet potatoes.
Throw in a banana and almond butter for dessert and I’m a happy camper.
Sargent had one of those nights when all the options look pretty good and it’s hard to choose. I ended up having rice with tofu stir fry, tofu spring rolls and cold edamame and celery (just to add some green to the plate). I could probably eat 50 of those spring rolls without getting tired of them.
Day 6: Friday
I started off with a brunch of a rice cake, almond butter, and a banana. When dinner finally rolled around, I went down to Sargent, not as excited to be nearing the end of my vegan week as I would’ve thought. I felt healthier, cleaner and more disciplined. That was probably mostly due to going without butter for a week and being forced to eat vegetables and rice in lieu of cheese and chocolate.
For dinner I had that ubiquitous potato cauliflower curry, carrots (with cilantro – nice touch) and vegan curried rice and bean pilaf. The pilaf was amazing. I haven’t seen it before and don’t really expect to see it again, so I had two more plates of it. Topped off with another banana with almond butter. I was hungry.
Day 7: Saturday
My last official vegan day. I’m more excited to stop taking pictures of everything I eat than I am to eat dairy and eggs again, or even to eat chocolate.
Sargent had breakfast for lunch, so I didn’t have many options. It was one of the few times Sargent has disappointed me. They didn’t even have decent apples. I had to eat one of the nasty red ones. Still, it was significantly better than Hinman.
I sat down with bowls of random, totally unrelated and non complementary things: oatmeal with raisins and honey, vegan tomato bisque, broccoli and green peppers with hummus, and a banana and apple with almond butter.
I just have to say, I’ve been thoroughly impressed with Northwestern’s vegan soup game. I never really ate the soup before, but the limitations of veganism opened the door for me to the glorious world of vegetable-based soup (usually with beans).
For my last vegan supper, Sargent was still lacking in options (they tend to slack off on Saturdays and Sundays). Unenthusiastic about eating yet another stir fry, I decided to stick with soy roasted squash and potatoes, always reliable options.
But then I decided that a plate full of starch was lacking in nutritional value and wouldn’t be enough to carry me through the long night of studying that lay ahead of me. So I went back for the vegetable stir fry I didn’t want. And wrapped it all up with another banana with almond butter.
All in all, my week as a vegan was a pretty good experience. I could definitely feel the difference in my stomach when I cut out dairy. Plus I just felt healthier and more energized, probably because I was forced to eat more fruits and vegetables. I’ll probably stick to a more vegan diet in the future, allowing myself the occasional egg or dairy product (e.g. Nutella), but I didn’t really miss them that much.
I would definitely recommend trying veganism out. And if you’re a carnivore and that’s too big of a step for you, try cutting out meat for a week and see how you feel. You’ll definitely have a clearer conscious when you don’t contribute to an industry that’s destroying our environment.