“The Freshman 15 is real.”
Myth or not, it’s easy to see why many people believe that they’ll put on some weight during their first year. Let’s face it – college carries a notion of freedom in a spectrum of ways, most notably in what you choose to eat. The dining hall is just one meal swipe away, granting you access to an assortment of dishes ranging from southwestern chicken pizza to burrito bowls to beef stir fry – the list goes on.
Among my circle of friends and family, I am known to have a hardcore sweet tooth. As a result, every meal at the dining hall was truly one of the highlights of my day. It was a sweet paradise. I never failed to get ice cream on a waffle cone for lunch and, on average, I’d eat two chocolate brownies at dinner on some days and a delectable slice of carrot cake – topped with thick cream cheese frosting – on others. Generally speaking, I was having dessert with a side of actual dinner food.
People in my dorm joked around, saying that my roommate Wint Thazin ’20 and I probably got matched so that I could finally start eating healthy. Though we both share a profound love for acai bowls, flowers and Pinterest, we were opposites when it came to eating habits. Wint has been a vegan for the past two and a half years, choosing to pursue this lifestyle as a way of showing compassion towards voiceless animals, the environment and herself. I, on the other hand, had not been too aware about the kinds of food I was putting into my body. My favorite snacks consisted of butter popcorn and Trader Joe’s waffle cookies, while hers included organic dried mangoes and pumpkin seed granola mix.
To be fair, I did try my best to put fruit and salad on my plate for most meals, but when I sat down one day with two slices of pepperoni pizza and a gigantic chocolate chip cookie atop the sparse green leaves of lettuce on my plate, I got some remarks from the friends at my table. I wasn’t blind to my excessive dessert consumption. I knew I wasn’t eating as best as I could, so I asked my friend if there were any alternatives to veganism or vegetarianism. I was genuinely curious, but instead I received a flat “it’s called being healthy.”
I had just gotten served …
Being surrounded by health conscious individuals and the promotion of sustainability here at Stanford from compost bins to community gardens to eco-friendly dining hall produce had definitely begun to make an impact on me. Driven by my roommate’s motivation and my realization that perhaps I should begin to be more mindful about my usual diet, I decided to be vegan for a week.
This was about trying something new. My decision to pursue a vegan diet for a week was not about preventing the Freshman 15, but about striving to be a healthier version of myself – all the while supporting important causes such as animal rights and sustainability. I’m not implying that one must become vegan in order to be healthy, but rather, I chose to take this as a personal challenge, considering the majority of my daily favorite foods were not so vegan-friendly.
The first day wasn’t too bad, especially because it was a Saturday – brunch day. Though it is a widely recognized fact that Wilbur is the best place for brunch on campus, it is also the best hall for a vegan brunch. It is so simple and easy to make a nutritious smoothie bowl with the frozen fruit and blenders readily available for students.
The first step to crafting the perfect smoothie bowl is to grab your favorite fruit. I chose frozen berries, mangoes and bananas and added apple juice as my base. I learned that bananas are a great source of natural sugar, especially when you’re cutting down on artificially sweetened snacks. Once your smoothie is as thick and blended as you like, pour it into a silver salad bowl and add any other ingredients you enjoy. For my smoothie bowl, I added dried cranberries, coconut shreds, granola, and banana slices.
Just as I was about to add honey, however, I realized honey comes from bees, thereby making it an animal product. It had only been the first day, and I was already thinking about the sources of the food I was putting onto my plate. This simple act was the beginning of a food conscious journey.
The following days were about transition, especially since I hadn’t taken into account the abundance of foods containing egg or milk, like pasta and bagels. On Sunday, I decided to “treat” myself and went to Whole Foods to buy some vegan cheese pizza and coconut milk ice cream. Quickly, I opened the door to friendly alternatives and I realized that just because one is “vegan,” it doesn’t necessarily mean that all one can eat is spinach and whole grains.
Wint believes that “people often perceive veganism as [eating] only a tiny, set number of foods. But everyone eats vegan foods without acknowledging it. There are many more options than one might think, you just have to explore the dining hall a little bit.” Finding substitutes and alternatives to foods you would usually consume is fairly easy, especially at an environmentally friendly school like ours!
Most days throughout the week, I created power bowlsa dish with a source of protein like lentils, dried cranberries, spinach, brown or cumin basmati rice, couscous, broccoli, and butternut squash. The more color added to my plate, the healthier and tastier. To be completely honest, these veggie bowls are perhaps the healthiest dish I have ever eaten—an unfortunate reflection on my history of meal decisions. Based on my experience, I strongly recommend Arillaga Dining Commons in terms of providing the most vegan-friendly options!
I was definitely eating less, if any, dessert throughout the week – the most challenging part of being vegan for me. The good news is that there are several vegan sweets out there! Some of these include Oreos and Speculoos; however, if you want a healthier alternative, you can always go for homemade chocolate and banana ice cream – a sweet and simple recipe! Blend together a few frozen bananas, a spoonful of 100 percent cacao (milk-free) and a hint of almond milk and you are good to go!
After the seven days passed, I still craved chocolate chip cookies, but I was also more aware about the impact that my food choices had not just on my body, but on the world around me. From fair trade issues to environmentalism, these are topics I was not too informed about before researching the benefits of veganism aside from a healthier lifestyle. I also learned that just because you’re vegan, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re the healthiest.
My brief, but eye-opening journey with veganism allowed me to cultivate a greater awareness about the foods I was using to fuel the wellbeing of my body. Will I go vegan? Most likely not, but that is a personal choice. Vegetarianism is an option I’ve been considering, but in the meantime I will most certainly start checking the labels, sources, and ingredients of my food regularly since I realize now more than ever that you truly are what you eat.
Contact Clarissa Gutierrez at cgutier ‘at’ stanford.edu.