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2013 Winter Issue 8 (March 8, 2013)

Winter Term Vegan Challenge

March 10, 2013
By Tori Ostenso

I don’t know what got into me. I am a cheese-loving girl from small town Wisconsin. At the beginning of this term, I decided to have a go at veganism for a term. This ten-week challenge turned out to be easy as pie (pie with vegetable shortening instead of butter is still delicious). With the help of my long-time vegan roommate, foodgawker.com [search bar] vegan, avocados, and dark chocolate, I have made it through the term with satisfied taste buds and a happy tummy. I have gotten a taste of the vegan scene at Carleton and here is what I have gathered.

Overall, Carls are supportive of vegans. Although people still try to offer you meat and marvel at what life would be like without cheese, they aren’t shunning your vegan ways they just don’t get it. I was told my hair was going to fall out, which was a little scary. Thankfully, they were wrong about that. Some people worried about protein deficiency. I did too, until I realized Americans tend to eat too much protein and that there are plenty of plant-based proteins to choose from. Many people assumed that being vegan meant eating sub-par food and taking a bunch of supplements, but the vegans I spoke to hardly take supplements at all. Although I bought protein powder, calcium pills, and a multi-vitamin at the beginning of the term, I only remembered to take them a handful of times and my health has not suffered.

However, not all vegan stereotypes are false. One assumption that reigns true is vegans love kale. They like other foods too but they especially like kale. When asked, “What is your favorite vegan meal in the dining halls?” I expected to hear about some foreign-sounding dish from Wild Thymes. Instead, vegan Jack Hessel said, “I like it when they have kale in the salad bar” and Chelsea Wagner replied, “I had a really good kale and tahini salad.” I love a good bite of kale too- it’s such a “meaty” vegetable.

Bon Appetit makes it easy to be vegan by offering a wide variety of vegan options everyday. Their dishes like Blue Berry Banana Walnut Pancakes and Thai Spiced Tempeh Tofu Patties go above and beyond the expectations to meet a dietary restriction. The Bon Appetit Chefs have been working hard to improve their vegan selection and stay at the forefront of the vegan culinary scene. During one visit to Burton, Chef Vale Riggs pulled me into the kitchen to show me his newest experiment – house-made soymilk for vegan sauces. He sent me with a warm bowl of his earthy soymilk to taste-test and I was very impressed. Bon Appetit is very willing to respond to student feedback and make changes (if you don’t believe this, attend a Dining Board meeting). Their innovative chefs are keeping the vegan options alive and exciting in the dining halls.

There are a lot of motivations behind veganism – the environment, personal health, animal welfare.  Hearing testimonials from other vegans has challenged me to come up with my own more permanent reasons for being vegan. It seems like the big environmental issues and my body’s happy reaction to this diet should be enough to convince me. However, there are a couple reasons that I am having trouble firming up a lifetime commitment to this vegan diet.

The first is that food possesses a great power to bring people together that is embedded in cultural and community traditions and I don’t want miss out on these experiences. Over the term I have been unable to partake in pear blue cheese pizza at a Professor dinner, creamy mushroom bruschetta at a Firebellies event, and the nostalgic, ever-nourishing Farm House biscuit. Although I have loved impressing people with my vegan cooking and baking (I especially love hearing “Wait, this is vegan?”), I want them to be able to impress me too. Some recipes just should not be manipulated, most importantly my Grandma’s fried rice and the Farm House biscuits.

The second is I have seen the food system done right by neighbors and friends whose livelihood depends on their relationship with their animals. I know some happy chickens that listen to NPR on the radio all day and who have no other desire than to plop out an egg every once and a while. I have squeezed a cow’s teets, caught and fileted many little fishies, and spent many cold winter mornings patiently hunting with my Dad. I think there is a way to eat animal products that promotes our relationship with animals instead of hurting it, but I also know that most people are not doing that. We live in a society of convenience where some kids think that eggs grow on eggplants and chicken only comes in the nugget form. Most people will never see the underbelly of our food system – the factory farms where animals are confined, overfed, and treated as units of production – or the alternative – the small chicken coop where the radio is always playing. What people will see are the fluorescent signs in front of Econo that says “3 DAY MEAT SALE”, enticing fast food ads on TV, and empty cupboards that need filling.

I am committed to being a positive force towards a healthier food system, but veganism is not going to be my platform. Although I am still planning on sourcing most of my sustenance from a plant-based diet, my diet will be always in flux as I uncover new knowledge about the food system, participate in food traditions, experience the value of food in different cultures, and cultivate my role in my own food community. I am grateful that the Carleton Community and Bon Appetit have made it easy for me to experiment with veganism and have given me so many outlets to express my food fantasies and frustrations. If you are interested in checking out some of my vegan concoctions or reading more about my vegan term, visit my blog @ http://tickledtummytoritwinkled.wordpress.com/.

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