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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

The Difficulties of being vegan at a supposedly “vegan-friendly” school

Published: October 26, 2012
Section: Opinions, Top Stories

I lost count of how many emails were sent last fall that encouraged students to vote for Brandeis as the most vegan friendly small university. I voted, not even giving a thought as to whether Brandeis is actually vegan friendly or not—I knew we had a vegan station in Usdan and a vegan section in the C-Store, and that was good enough for me. All I cared about was supporting my school. And now, because of that public poll with the majority of the votes being cast by non-vegan students, we have signs in Sherman and in the C-Store proclaiming our vegan-friendliness. In reality, however, we have a long way to go before anyone should be calling Brandeis “vegan friendly.”

As a first year student last year, I thought the dining here was pretty good, just a bit repetitive—but I thought all schools were like that. It wasn’t until I decided to be a vegetarian during Lent that I began to realize our dining halls are centered around meat. I was eating the same things over and over again for six weeks: cheese quesadillas, pasta, rice, mac & cheese and smoothies. And if I wanted some vegetables, I almost always had to have a salad, which would usually take up a whole meal. While it was partially my fault for being too lazy to walk anywhere besides Usdan from North Quad, I was getting tired of the food.

And that was just the start of it. This year, I decided to actually try eating a healthier diet, and it’s definitely been a challenge. My vegetables mostly come from salads I eat, and they’re no different from day to day: spinach, cucumber, lettuce and tomato. Sometimes I add raw broccoli or some of those paper-thin carrot strips. I’m happy if there are green beans or cooked broccoli at one of the stations in lower Usdan.

I began to wonder what it would be like to actually be a full-time vegan or vegetarian here on campus.

Marissa Cecala ’14, president of the vegan/vegetarian club, expressed frustration over the meal plan. The vegan option offers the same meal for lunch and dinner, she pointed out, and it’s closed on the weekends.

“It’s like a soup kitchen,” she said. Cecala did concede that the vegan section in the C-Store is an “improvement,” but that it’s not fresh food and mostly noodles and grains. “There aren’t any vegetables … Just trying to eat healthy here is really hard.”

Kimiko Van Wickle ’14 also expressed unhappiness with the vegan options on campus: “I don’t want Usdan vegan meatballs everyday. Veganism doesn’t equal tofu.” Currently a junior, Van Wickle chose to live off campus this year because of the limited options that Brandeis offers.

And looking around Usdan, I have to agree. Some days, there are only one or two vegetable options in lower Usdan, and often they are in stir-fry form. Why don’t we have a station that offers whole, plain, cooked vegetables daily?

Both Cecala and Van Wickle talked about running out of points on their meal plans, during their first years here. Van Wickle recalls running out of points after only one month, and Cecala remembers spending hundreds of dollars on food aside from her meal plan during her first semester at Brandeis. “I would go to the salad bar in lower Usdan for vegetables, and then go to the C-Store and get noodles or something. It was expensive.” Cecela spoke about having to order-in a lot on the weekend, and how frustratingly hard it is to get the right nutrients as a vegan: “Why are we paying so much to feel disrespected?”

Leah Staffin ’15, a former vegetarian, also stated that there is a lack of variety in food for vegetarians. When asked on how to improve life as a vegetarian here at Brandeis, she replied with, “more variety, for sure.” When asked whether she thought Brandeis was vegan or vegetarian friendly, she responded, “we’re definitely ‘friendly’ … like [Brandeis and vegetarianism are] more than acquaintances, but not so close.”

Cecala talked about the idea of creating a vegetarian and/or vegan meal plan, which sounds like a fairer idea. It really isn’t fair that vegans and vegetarians are paying the same amount of money for a school that doesn’t provide fresh, diverse and healthy options. It really is, as she said, disrespectful.

Brandeis is hardly health friendly and certainly not vegan friendly. I don’t think it’s accurate to say to the rest of the world, including and especially prospective students, that Brandeis is a good place for vegans. I do admit, though, that there have been some minor improvements to the dining system this year—but it needs to go to a whole other level before I’d call us “vegan friendly.”