Sunday, 19 August 2012

Grasshoppers go to uni

I am fully aware that the start of term is creeping up on us. I look forward to seeing all the excited freshers and attempting to keep that excitement going once classes start. I could say more about that, but this isn't the forum for it. Instead, this post is for those firsties who are vegan or going vegan, and indeed anyone trying to maintain vegan life on campus. I have to admit, I fell at that hurdle, and it was harder to go vegan a second time later in life. Hence my interest in helping others avoid the pitfalls and sharing the advice I wish I'd had all those years ago.

1: Make the best use of what you have. Chances are the facilities won't be great in halls or a student house, but if you are in a self-catering hall (usually the best if you have a choice) there should at least be a stove, a fridge and some cupboard space. Assess what sort of storage you have most of. A freezer will give you more scope for variety, and also for cooking when you have time and stockpiling for when you don't. If you have a decent amount of fridge space, you have scope to make leftovers and put portions aside. If you have a cupboard and not much else, your diet may need to focus around dried and tinned food with only as much fresh veg as you are going to use in the short time it keeps out in the open. If it is at all possible to cook large batches when your housemates are out, I'd suggest doing that to minimise friction over the stove. (This will be, no pun intended, hotly contested - however many functional rings/burners a stove has there is a limit to how many people can crowd around it!)

2: Equip yourself. You can probably get by with one (sharp) knife and chopping board.You should ideally have a wooden spoon for hot stuff (where a plastic one would melt) and a plastic one for wet stuff like pasta (where a wooden one would get saturated). You can treat new, cheap wooden utensils by exposing them to as much oil as possible in the first couple of weeks you have them. You could do with two saucepans - one to cook large batches in and one to heat up small quantities. You're also going to need some containers. The best in my experience are glass jars for the fridge and margarine/ice'cream' pots for the freezer - if you buy these you get free food with them! A casserole or pie dish would be useful.

3: Packed lunch! Uni canteens seem to do the vegan thing better than they did when I was a student - however, it is still difficult to rely on being able to get something decent each day. You could eat a peanut butter sandwich every day - with a different sort of salad vegetable for each day of the week if you're feeling adventurous - but a salad with fat (olive oil, avocados, nuts) and protein (chickpeas, beans, nuts, quinoa or tofu) and a small amount of added carbs (potato, couscous, pasta) if you find yourself getting hungry is way better for staying awake in afternoon classes. If a vegetable can be eaten raw it can be used for this purpose. Salad can keep for a couple of days in the fridge so you can make a double batch to save some time. It's also worth having some dried fruit or nuts to graze on.

4: If you're not used to cooking for yourself, get some recipes. <a href=>Increasing Veganicity</a> has some to be going on with. At this time of year there will be a range of cookbooks explicitly targeted at students, it would be worth getting a specific vegetarian one if you can find it. These books acknowledge that you aren't always cooking in optimum conditions or with a huge budget!

5: Stay true to yourself. You'll be facing a different set of pressures and challenges from the ones you're used to. You'll get questions and the odd bit of piss-taking, although hopefully nothing worse. (although you won't be alone if that *does* happen) You may even encounter the <a href=>drunk around pizza</a> problem for the first time. Just remember - and I know this is easier said than done - that if people object to you being vegan or 'need' you to eat animal products to 'blend in', they are not worth hanging out with. Unless you are at an agricultural college in the middle of nowhere, there is probably scope for making better friends. (if you are a vegan having a good experience at an ag college in the middle of nowhere, feel free to share your survival tips!) Preaching won't help you make friends. Going against your beliefs won't get you respect. Being open and having integrity will hopefully achieve both. Answering questions is good, unless the person is clearly spoiling for a fight - then you're within your rights to change the subject to something less charged.

I know this blog is read by people who have been through the student experience more recently than me, so feel free to chime in in the comments if you have any tips that I haven't dealt with!