LTE: How I Learned to Stop Eating Animal Products and Love Taco Bell

One of the main reasons people shy away from veganism is because they believe that they won’t be able to eat anywhere on campus and will be left bereft of any cheap or delicious food options: sad, hungry and left out at the lunch table. Fortunately, this bleak fate is easily avoidable. Many people simply do not know about the plentiful vegan options around VCU’s diverse campus. For those who don’t know, veganism is a diet that abstains from all animal products: no meat, fish, eggs or dairy. While this may seem like a large undertaking, with some commitment and some knowledge about how and where to eat on campus, veganism at VCU becomes easier by the day. So let me give you some tips that I wish I had known sooner when I first came to VCU as a vegan last year.

Firstly, let’s talk about the wonderful (or the dreaded, depending on who you ask) Shafer Dining Hall. VCU is actually very fortunate to have a dining hall with so many vegan options. In fact, the options are abundant as soon as you walk in and look to your right. Enter the vegan bar, loaded with veggies, beans, tofu, a hot meal and two soups that change every day. If you don’t care for the hot option that day, I recommend getting a cup of soup and loading it up with tofu (optional), chickpeas, black beans and a veggie or two. This will give you a satiating meal that’s loaded with protein, iron and calcium. In addition to the bar, Shafer also offers salads, a soy milk dispenser, french fries, veggie burgers and hot dogs! Just make sure you ask the chefs to sauté them for you because they are uncooked.

Next, let’s discuss the Student Commons. While fast food doesn’t seem ideal for a vegan, it can be a convenient, cheap and delicious option. Firstly, Subway offers a Veggie Delite sandwich, and even offers a vegetarian (not vegan) veggie patty. Next, Chik-Fil-A offers waffle fries and the POD has various vegan snacks, including Sweet Chili Doritos, knockoff Swedish Fish and much more. However, the best option, in my opinion, is Taco Bell. The password to unlock the vegan Taco Bell menu is “fresco.” Ask for any menu item with an “F” next to it for “fresco style” and they will replace the cheese and sour cream with pico de gallo. It’s delicious, easy and much healthier, too. In addition, you can always sub beans for beef or add potatoes. My favorite vegan fast food item is the bean burrito fresco style. Perhaps not the greatest weight loss food, but if you want to get in as many calories and nutrients for as little dollars as possible, this is tough to beat. For two bean burritos, coming in at under three dollars, you get 700 calories, 16g dietary fiber, 26g protein, 30 percent of your daily value of calcium and 40 percent of your daily value of iron. Who knew Taco Bell could be so nutritious?

Sticking to veganism is difficult for many people. They get bored of eating the same things or feel there’s nothing for them if they have to be on the dining plan. However, this has just scratched the surface of the bounty of options on campus. To give two more food examples, Bleeker St. has tofu or Portobello mushrooms that taste eerily similar to roast beef (seriously, try it) and Croutons offers tofu or hummus. Starbucks will also veganize most of their drinks simply by replacing the dairy milk with either soy or coconut milk for a mere 60 cents extra. (Make sure to order no whipped cream as well!) This also doesn’t even take into account the plethora of options available off campus (give Strange Matter or Harrison St. Café a visit sometime!). Going vegan also doesn’t have to be all at once either. All I ask is that everyone reading this tries some of these options once a week for Meatless Monday — if not for you, for the planet and for the animals.

Patrick Hager

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