Oliver Haslam has some advice for anxious vegan students who are about to start university
I’ve just finished my second year at uni, and it now feels like a another home to me. Yet, I can still vividly remember the preparations for my first year – which was also the first time I had ever lived away from home.
When thinking back, I remember of running around various kitchen shops debating the necessity of a vegetable scrubber with my mum, along with trying to source an appropriately sized wok.
Among these stressful decisions, there was one particular concern that kept bothering me, this being how I’d cope at university as a vegan.
What if we all cook meals for each other? Will there be room in the fridge for my soya milk? Will it make my new flatmates feel awkward in the kitchen? And where can I buy tofu?
On reflection, these are all easily resolvable, and somewhat irrational fears regarding vegan student life. But at that time these issues were seriously dwelling on my mind, and if you’re currently contemplating heading off to university as a vegan, perhaps they’re dwelling on yours too.
I’ve been vegan my entire life, yet despite 20 years of experience under my belt, I was anxious. Now perhaps I’m just inept in the kitchen, but I imagine that for any young person the thought of moving away from home and having to cook yourself dinner every night is a daunting prospect. As a vegan, this is potentially an even scarier thought. Yet, it’s over two years later and I’m still alive, so I must have done something right.
Now let us rewind to November 2013. I’ve been at university for a month, I’m in my student kitchen, and I’m cooking.
“What on earth is that?” My flatmate asks as she stares with confusion into my saucepan of scrambled tofu. Yet I would ask similar questions upon walking into our kitchen to see another flatmate casually snacking on a bowl of raw broccoli mixed in with chocolate buttons.
Students eat anything and everything, and you are likely to see some of the strangest meals being prepared in your student kitchen in your first year at uni, and I don’t mean strange as in exotic, I mean, well, strange. Whilst I sit and eat my weird scrambled tofu I sit opposite Joe, who is devouring a bowl of rice drenched in ketchup. As you can see, nobody is in a position to be judging your unusual vegan food.
It’s a fun and interesting learning experience cooking with people your own age every night away from home. You learn from each other; I taught my flatmates about the wonder and flexibility of tofu. I learnt all about the health benefits of olive oil from my flatmate, Sara, whose mum is a nutritionist. We all collectively learnt of what happens when a rice cooker full of rice (not mine…) is left unwashed and full of rice for two weeks… in case you were wondering, terrible, terrible things.
In fresher’s week, among the fun and partying, I signed up to my university’s Vegan Society, which has monthly gatherings where you can meet with other vegans to discuss veganism, share food and make friends.
I also spent some time preparing a list of simple vegan meals I could make to avoid Pot Noodles becoming my staple diet; stir-fry, chickpea curry and pasta sauces made fresh all served me well. Or if you’re feeling lazy then any supermarket sells all the Linda McCartney frozen food you could wish for.
At Christmas my flatmates decided to cook a Christmas dinner for us all, which included a separate batch of vegan mashed potato and vegan sausages. It was glorious, and I had to sit on the sofa for 30 minutes after to contemplate, and reflect on the ludicrous amount of food that I had just eaten.
This was one of the many moments I experienced through my first year where I realised how unnecessary my initials fears of veganism at university were.
In short, there are countless positives to being vegan at university. So just relax and embrace every aspect of your new university life: the friendships, the food and the fun.
Leave the worrying for more pressing matters, like attempting an essay the night before its due whilst crippled with a hangover that could slay a walrus. Or the rice cooker on the kitchen work surface that hasn’t been cleaned for two weeks and is growing forms of life that your innocent mind cannot yet comprehend.