Student feature: Veganism in the new year

Only half of New Year’s resolutions last until February of the new year and even less accomplish their true goal or last through the entire year. Personally, I have never stuck to a New Year’s resolution, or even taken them seriously before this year. Now, as a senior approaching graduation, I have decided to set concrete goals with my family: exercise at least three times a week, do yoga or stretch at least two times, eat at least one fresh fruit or vegetable each day and be sure to journal or read a chapter of a book at least every other day. These goals are moderate and concrete, two things that I believe are important in defining truly achievable, lifestyle-changing goals. You can see more of the Anchor’s staff resolutions on the back page. 

Other students on Hope’s campus have decided to take a more radical lifestyle change as their New Year’s resolution: becoming vegan. Vegan is defined as “a person who does not eat or use animal products,” but many people choose to define the term for what fits their lives and dietary habits best. Plant-based diets are becoming widely recognized as promoting weight loss, prevent a variety of diseases associated with intake of highly processed foods and is better for the environment. This lifestyle helps reduce carbon emissions and water usage associated with raising animals for meat.

I will be using the term “diet” in this article as it is defined here: “the kinds of food that a person, animal, or community habitually eats.” I do not intend for the phrase “vegan diet” to be mistaken as something the interviewees have partaken in as a restrictive course of food intake for weight loss. Perhaps rebranding the word “diet” could be useful in your own New Year’s resolution. Instead of restricting yourself to a diet, you could instead think of your food choices as a lifestyle and try to implement the habit of eating healthier instead of a regiment.

Sarah Grimes (’23) and Alaina Streberger (’20) have both shared their experience with veganism this far into the new year. I asked each similar questions about their goals and reasons for becoming vegan, and how the experience of veganism changes from making one’s own meals and getting meals from Phelps Dining Hall. 

Grimes, a freshman who regularly gets meals from Phelps, said that “my New Year’s resolution was to eat vegan at least six days a week. I am going vegan rather than vegetarian because I have already been a vegetarian for seven years and want to eat healthier and limit my impact on the environment.” As her sister, I will tell you this: she went vegetarian to spite my mother, who didn’t think she could go meatless for longer than a week. Grimes’ intentions changed over the years as she discovered an interest in environmental science and how producing meat has high greenhouse gas emissions and leads to deforestation and many other environmentally impacting side effects. 

Streberger’s drive to live authentically and begin a career in nursing has motivated her to pursue a vegan diet. “There are many reasons why I have decided to eat plant-based (vegan). Truly my interest began with personal health, cleaning my skin and athletic performance. I began to look into the benefits that this way of eating can impact chronically ill patients and many diseases that strike our processed food addicted society. Seeing the direct impact of chronic diseases in my nursing clinicals, I began to see that our healthcare system is not looking at preventing diseases, but looking for easy fixes and bandaids to place over the root of the problem,” Streberger said. “I am passionate about the functional medicine approach to healthcare, and if I will be promoting this to patients in the future, I thought I should be an example myself. The final push of motivation that inspired me to take the leap is the effect that meat production has on our environment. When I learned how much water, energy and land is used to produce meat and dairy products, my mind was blown. By reducing my meat intake, processed foods and plastic use, I can have an impact on the health of our planet and inspire others to do so as well by setting an example.”

Streberger also incorporates learning about plant-based diets in her lifestyle: “I have been listening to the coolest podcast called “Plant Proof,” where the host interviews a plethora of qualified individuals talking about all things plant-based diets and sustainable lifestyle. I have learned a lot by listening to this podcast, and I would say it has been my biggest inspiration to go plant based.”

Grimes sounded positive about her experience with going vegan for the first few weeks of the year: “So far, it has been going well! I have only ‘cheated’ a few times, generally for foods containing eggs, such as different types of bread. It has not been as difficult as I expected, perhaps because I had already been a vegetarian for so long.” I asked her about how easy it was to eat vegan at Phelps. “At Phelps, I tend to eat a lot of fruits and vegetables. For lunch, I generally have carrots and hummus, salad and then some other vegetables such as broccoli or cauliflower,” Grimes told me. “I am pretty satisfied with what Phelps offers because they do a good job of offering a variety of vegetables and vegan food. However, I think it would be easier to have a bigger variety of vegan foods if I made my meals from home. Phelps could make it easier if they had more vegan meals, rather than just a lot of vegetables and salads.” On the other hand, Streberger thinks that “living off campus and cooking my own food has made going vegan more realistic for me compared to eating in the dining halls.”

Streberger has the luxury of making her own meals at her off-campus house. “My goal is to limit the processed foods I eat by adding in a lot of fresh fruits and veggies to all of my meals. This can be challenging as a college student on a budget and time crunch, but it has been very doable so far. My cupboard is always stocked with rice, beans, chickpeas, sweet potatoes and hummus. I love to roast a lot of veggies at a time to have ready to mix in with the staples throughout each week. I enjoy making big pots of soup because I can add all of my favorite veggies and beans and spices, and it lasts a while in the fridge. I love roasting chickpeas, making oatmeal with all the good toppings, smoothies, guacamole and salsa, peanut butter with anything. I think eating plant-based is fun because it can open your eyes to so many new recipes and foods,” Streberger told me.

Grimes takes an off day once a week, where she “tend[s] to eat banana or apple bread with butter. I also will eat popcorn too.” Streberger had a lot to say on the topic of “off” days: “I try not to be so hard on myself. I don’t really crave meat anymore because I have been vegetarian for about two years. Eggs has been hard for me. It was the hardest food to eliminate because it was such a staple in my meals and I love the taste of a good scramble. I always crave chocolate and dessert foods but there’s many yummy options out there to satisfy those cravings. One of my favorites is “Sweet Loren’s” cookies. I find that when I fill up on all of the hearty veggies, grains, and legumes, I do not crave other foods because my body is well nourished.”

“I generally have enjoyed the things I’ve eaten; it has forced me to try new things I probably would not have tried otherwise,” Grimes said when I asked her about how she enjoyed her new diet. 

Streberger and Grimes both lead active lifestyles. Grimes, who participates at Hope College’s cross country and track and field teams, found that “so far my diet has not impacted my energy levels or my workout routine.” Streberger also loves to run and leads the Hope College Yoga club, regularly teaching classes and practicing on her own time. “I do feel very energised when I work out,” she told me. “Cutting out dairy has eliminated bloating and stomach aches.”

Grimes’ friends “think it is impressive that I am trying to eat mostly vegan, but don’t really do much besides that [in terms of support],” Grimes said. Streberger, on the other hand, lives with a group of girls with different dietary restrictions that enforce a more highly plant-based diet than what an average college student could be found eating regularly. “My friends do support me very well,” Streberger said, “Being gluten free for eight years and vegetarian for about two, I think they understand my passion for eating the way I do and we often make meals together.”

If you want to know more about plant-based diets, Streberger recommends checking out some documentaries. “I have watched all of the documentaries there are to watch,” Streberger told me. “My favorite ones are “Game Changers,” “What the Health,” and “Forks over Knives.” I highly recommend game changers for college athletes! It talks about how we get all (if not more) the protein we need from plants.” “Game Changers” is on Netflix, so it is easily accessible

Approaching any change in your diet by viewing what you intake as a lifestyle can make for a much easier transition. Think about how the food you consume is making you healthier and giving you energy, and take pride in what you eat! You need to be happy to be healthy, so find the right balance of foods that will keep you fulfilled to tackle each day. 

 



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