Vegans of Color

Because we don’t have the luxury of being single-issue

Being Vegan at an HBCU March 29, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Meilani @ 6:08 pm

My first thought after deciding to go vegan was “Yay! Wait, what about my mother’s macaroni-and cheese?” My second thought was, “What the hell am I going to eat at school?” As a senior at what’s considered one of the best Historically Black Colleges in the nation, I’ve watched the cafeteria go through its changes. I came in an omnivore freshman and had made the leap to vegetarianism by my third year. But I was a sad vegetarian. Constantly depressed over all of the things I couldn’t eat (curse you Soul Food Thursdays!) I “slipped” over and over again. Between junior and senior year I got serious about transitioning to veganism. But what to eat on campus during the many hours I’m there has remained one of my biggest frustrations.

The main issue has been the contradiction between my school cafeteria attempting to provide for vegans but not always understanding what vegan is. Foods are only labeled half of the time, and of that half they are mislabeled quite often. (But hey, labels with nutrition information are brand new and much appreciated when they’re right). Eating lunch often feels like navigating a minefield of hidden ingredients and employees who didn’t make the food and aren’t required to know what’s in it. I was beginning to lose hope that I’d ever be able to have a meal that consisted of more than french fries (made in an independent fryer) and salad. This was only compounded by the fact that during a visit to one of the predominantly white institutions the offerings in the cafeteria were a buffet spread compared to what I was used to. Given the alarming statistics of food-related illnesses in the black community it would seem that my school would want to be at the forefront of a nutrition overhaul, starting in its own cafeteria. I know that other schools can also have paltry offerings for vegans, and all schools aren’t like the one I visited, but it sometimes seems like my school is so far behind the times and I often wonder why.

But today, my HBCU cafeteria was serving pho (or some version of it, I’ve never actually had the real thing). The same cafeteria that just last year was essentially only serving pasta or beans and rice as vegan entrees. At the little soup station everything was clear before me: rice noodles, herbs, tofu, vegetables, and a vegetable broth! With ginger! The gentleman who assembled my soup was eager to know what a vegan was. He didn’t know the difference between vegan and vegetarian but said he would do more research. I explained what I do and don’t eat. And I came back for more of his soup. Because it was the most satisfying meal I’ve had in this cafeteria in the last 6 months. Maybe tomorrow he’ll have more questions. Maybe he’ll tell his coworkers and more will know that you can’t call broccoli slathered in cheddar sauce vegan. My school has come a long way from only serving beans and rice and even though I’m on my way out, I hope they continue to make healthy changes.


7 Responses to “Being Vegan at an HBCU”

  1. Erica Says:

    Do you know any other vegans or vegetarians that go to your school? Whether veg or not, you could consider the option of getting together a group of students concerned about healthy eating at your school, and compose a letter to your school or a petition that students could sign to get more healthy veggie options. Of course, you are on your way out, and this sort of thing takes time, but it could be rewarding in the end, and I can’t imaging why your school would not be open to it. It’s nice that they are making some changes though!

  2. Jen Says:

    First of all I have to say thank you for putting out the fact that HBCUs don’t have many options for vegetarians, much less vegans. Oh how I lovED Soul Food Thursdays in the Caf!!….Anywho I digress, I agree with you in the fact that people of color should be more conscious about how much meat we eat. Many fail to realize that we don’t need as much meat as we think we do…like at every meal!!

    I have recently become vegetarian and am working on the veganism. Having a hard time getting all my protein without eggs but Im working on it.

  3. jessica Says:

    hey melani.

    i would suggest meeting with the head of dining services or manager of the dining hall to let them know your opinion and suggestions for vegetarian options or better labeling. if they are a good manager they will know the importance of customer service and take your thoughts into account, if you can come with feedback from other veg students as well- for the importance of labeling for instance- that would be even better.

    also, you could point to other reasons they might want to step up their labeling- to accommodate people who avoid certain foods for religious purposes, or avoid certain allergens.

    of course, you didn’t post this asking for advice, but your situation reminded me of my own freshman year, and after meeting with the dining services at school, i saw things begin to improve.

    thanks for sharing your story!


  4. Meilani, thank you for sharing! I know that a lot of
    universities use the Sodexho company to provide
    meals. And they will, if pushed, serve vegan, local &
    organic meals.

    I would love to interview you for my blog, chocolate &
    arugula, which explores black folks and being green
    (animals & the environment). I also focus on sustainability @hbcus.


  5. Meilani Says:

    Thanks everyone! i wasn’t sure what to write about for my first post, so I went for what is consuming my life right now, which is any- and everything related to school. I sent an email to my school’s dining managers. We’ll see what they say when they respond. I’ll be sure to keep you all updated.

  6. cheyenne Says:

    My HWC is just like this. I ended up going vegan (from vegetarian) after I moved off campus because even being vegetarian on campus was maddening, and I can totally appreciate that moment of finding something that’s vegan and great.

  7. valerie Says:

    Hey Melani,

    Thank you so much for sharing. I went to Howard U and loved it because of the diversity of experiences that I encountered from the students, staff and professors. Food is experiential, and while veganism is a lifestyle, most people are first introduced through food provided by veg friends and family. I would echo both Erica and Jessica’s comments that seeking out other members of the veg community and also being willing to educate the dining staff will help you and your campus. Another way to expose members of your campus community is through the classroom ie through films or guest lecturers so also approach your professors. Best wishes.

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