What do rapper Andre 3000, comedienne Ellen DeGeneres and actor Brad Pitt all have in common? No, it’s not that they’re all fabulously wealthy and tremendously successful.
Rather, they’re all vegans.
And they’re not the only ones: other vegan celebs include the likes of “Clueless” actress Alicia Silverstone (who has her own vegan website), Olivia Wilde, Joaquin Phoenix and Ben Stiller, to name a few.
Many questions surround veganism: What do they eat? Where do they eat? Why are they vegan? With World Vegan Month underway, I felt it was appropriate to explore this lifestyle and examine how easy – or hard – it is to make the most of upcoming holiday meals devoid of meat and dairy.
Itseasybeingvegan.com defines a vegan as “someone who doesn’t eat any animal products including meat (red meat, poultry and seafood), eggs and dairy. Some vegans also avoid the use of honey. Vegans may also be called herbivores. Healthy vegans enjoy eating fresh fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds. Some vegans also enjoy transition or convenience foods such as vegan meats and cheeses.”
Some vegans are purely dietary, whereas others actively avoid buying and wearing animal products, too.
After talking extensively with a friend from home who had recently felt compelled to change after his own research of the animal industry, I decided to give myself the challenge of becoming a vegan for a week. One week – how hard could it be?
Day one started, naturally, with a lot of enthusiasm. A smile spread upon my face from cheek-to-cheek as I ordered an almond milk latte from the Procrastination Station, along with a vegan peanut butter and chocolate bar to get me through my tedious morning of class. Lunch also followed positively with a brown rice and tofu dish. I felt good, excited and like an activist in the making.
And then I faced my first real test: Berkshire Dining.
Living in Southwest, Berkshire has pretty much become the epicenter of my existence at UMass, using it as a place to socialize with friends, a place to garner energy for the day ahead and sometimes, a sanctuary of shelter from the bitter weather of Massachusetts. However, as a vegan, I couldn’t say I was spoiled for choice. Most days I faced a toss-up for dinner between a purely avocado sushi roll, vegetable broth, or whatever the vegetarian area had to offer that was milk/egg free, (or, in other words, not a lot).
At Earthfoods in the Student Union, I fared better.
Walking in alone, a little overwhelmed and on a break from reading in the library, I found a seat against the wall and greedily tucked into a tofu and peanut coconut milk curry with salad and beans. Following the example of others in the makeshift cafeteria, I sprinkled some nutritional yeast and vinaigrette on my plate and presto, I had a delicious dish that I could hardly believe I was allowed to eat.
Before my experiment, I naively thought vegans primarily lived off of nuts and seeds, with an odd piece of vegetable thrown in if they were lucky – how wrong I was. For dessert, I munched on some slices of apple with a caramel sauce and coconut sprinkled on top.
That day my interest piqued; there seemed like a real sense of community in Earthfoods, with vegetarian, vegan and adventurous students congregating together over a shared love for kale and the like. My only criticism was the fact that I couldn’t use my Value Plan YCMP swipes there so the meal set me back nearly $10, meaning I could only afford to go once which was a true bummer.
Junior Cole Lanier works at Earthfoods and has been a vegan for six years, since his sophomore year of high school. I asked him why he’d decided to become one, to which he replied, “After reading and seeing videos about the treatment of food animals in the system, as well as the waste and pollution associated with the industry, I decided I couldn’t eat the products of factory animal farming any more. I don’t think that you can see something like that happening, and think ‘this is an atrocity’ and not change your lifestyle. The choices we make, that many of us have the privilege of making, directly affect what kind of world we live in.”
That week set my brain in motion. Although I haven’t kept to a strictly vegan diet, my mind has been opened to a new way of life. Documentaries like “From Farm to Fridge,” and “Glass Walls,” narrated by Paul McCartney, which can be found on YouTube, show the terrible injustices in the animal product industry and have left me, frankly, quite distressed. My friend from home also recommended to me the feature-length documentary “Forks Over Knives,” which discusses the endless health benefits of a plant-based diet, as well as “Earthlings,” narrated by Joaquin Phoenix, which DeGeneres cites as her inspiration for turning vegan. I still have a lot to learn in order to fully educate myself but I feel I’m on the right track.
For the on-campus vegans/experimentalists, why not buy some tasty vegan cookies online at http://lizlovely.com? For the ongoing World Vegan Month, why not broaden your horizons and challenge yourself to survive for a week without meat or dairy products? It may change your life.
Jenny Rae can be reached at [email protected]