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Living vegan in the valley’s not difficult, but USU campus is tougher

December 8th, 2009 Posted in Arts and Life

By Kelly Greenwood

LOGAN–Imagine going out to eat on a Friday night with your friends. You end up at Chili’s, and you sit down and look at the menu. You scan over the colorful, laminated pages, and you flip them back and forth in search of something to assuage your hunger. You soon realize your choices are limited to fries, a green side-salad or a side of vegetables. Hmm. Sound familiar? Probably not, unless you are a vegan.

Vegans? Aren’t they those PETA radicals who fling red paint onto fur coats in protest? Not quite. This is a common misconception people have about vegans, USU student Konstantinos Leoussis said.

“Not all vegans are PETA members,” 20-year-old Leoussis said. Leoussis, a Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences major, said there are a lot of pre-conceived notions about who vegans are, whether it’s that they are PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) members, hippies, “tree-huggers” or radicals who impose their views on people—these are all stereotypes, he said.

Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary defines vegan as “a strict vegetarian who consumes no animal or dairy products” and “one who abstains from using animal products.”

To the average omnivore, abstaining from any animal products—that’s meat, eggs, dairy, leather and even gelatin—may sound near impossible. Candice Mattson, a vegan and USU journalism student, disagrees, saying that preparing vegan dinners is so much easier than meat-themed dinners.

“I don’t think people realize how easy it is,” she said. “There’s none of this pot-roast-in-the-oven-for-five-hours garbage.”

Another misconception people have is “that you can’t be healthy and be vegan,” said Ellen Bensdottir, a vegan and USU freshman. Bensdottir responds to this misunderstanding, saying that she is healthy and that there are even vegan and vegetarian athletes and bodybuilders.

Another USU vegan, Kayla Woodring, mentions that people don’t believe vegans can get adequate protein from plant sources.

“I get plenty of protein, thank you very much,” Leoussis said.

Dining out can be challenging >>
So, being more limited than the average person in their food choices, do these Cache Valley vegans encounter the aforementioned Chili’s scenario? The answer is, sometimes.

“In Logan, there are not a lot of restaurants that are college-budget friendly and vegan,” Woodring said. She mostly has to cook her own meals at home and has developed a love for cooking since she became vegan.

Mattson echoes Woodring, saying that while she can find vegan options at Café Rio, Costa Vida, Tandoori Oven, Kamin and Black Pearl, she mostly cooks at home. And it is still difficult for her to go out to dinner with friends and family. She mentions occasions where all she could order was a side of broccoli and some French fries, which wasn’t particularly a good meal, she said.

Like Mattson, Leoussis said he loves Tandoori Oven, Kamin and Korean Barbeque, where chefs make him vegan food. He also said he likes Beehive Grill and Hamilton’s, where his neighbor who is a chef makes him special dishes. But though he’s found a niche in some places, he still finds difficulty in going out with his friends sometimes. If they want to go somewhere, he’ll go along, even if the place doesn’t cater to vegans. “I always make do,” he said. “I’d rather they not go somewhere else because of me.”

Mattson said that it’s actually pretty easy to be vegan in Cache Valley, though she’s had difficulties going out to restaurants and finding fellow vegans. She said she gets the things she needs at the health section in Smith’s Marketplace.

Bensdottir said there’s not as much support for veganism in the valley as there should be. But there are some good things—the Subway here is promoting veggie patties for sandwiches, she said.

Leoussis said he’s felt support for veganism in individual places like Kamin, but not enough in the valley or on campus. In fact, Leoussis decided to take matters into his own hands and is currently forming a club for vegetarians and vegans at USU and in Cache Valley called USU Veg. He said he is currently drafting the club’s constitution and hopes that the club will be in full swing by January 2010. Leoussis said he’s forming the club to create a support group in which vegans and vegetarians can share ideas, recipes and even go to vegan
restaurants in Salt Lake together.

How do vegans get enough protein? >>
When they do cook at home, what do these vegans eat? And how do they ‘get enough protein’ and achieve a balanced diet?

Bensdottir said she makes sandwiches with Tofurky (tofu turkey) and rice cheese for lunch and likes to sautee vegetables for dinner. Mattson and Woodring mention veggie burritos with beans, rice and vegetables as a lunch favorite and say they love to cook vegan dinners. Leoussis also said he loves to cook and is grateful for his experience working at his Dad’s vegan restaurant when he lived in New York. Leoussis said he tries to follow the vegan food pyramid when he cooks. He loves hummus and being from Aegina, Greece, he likes to cook Mediterranean dishes.

Woodring said she loves to cook international, Middle Eastern and Latino foods, while Mattson mentions portobello pot-pie, vegan alfredo pasta and mac & “cheese” with sauce made from ground cashews as some of her favorite dishes to make.

Leoussis touts tofu as a favorite staple. Tofu is for dinner tonight—I am making Asian noodle soup,” he said.

Some vegans have a sweet tooth, too—Woodring said people often think
that vegans can’t have desserts, which is not true. She said she loves to bake and mentions a favorite cookbook called Sinfully Vegan, which is “chock-full of desserts.” Mattson and Leoussis also like to bake, and Leoussis mentions a particular fondness for vegan pumpkin pie, which he makes often. “I have a serious addiction to it,” he said.

And being college students, can these folks find things to eat during long days on campus?

Woodring said she makes do when she has to eat on campus. She’ll get a veggie sandwich without cheese at Hogi Yogi or will get a salad at the salad bar in the Hub, she said. “I can make it work,” she said.

Bensdottir is less impressed with campus’ openness to veganism. She said she wanted to get a meal plan since she lives on campus, but she didn’t want to just eat salad all the time.

“I wish campus was more open to it,” she said.

Leoussis is also unimpressed with campus vegan accommodations. “Campus is very cold to veganism,” he said.

He recalls one day where he requested a veggie burger at the Aggie Marketplace dining center. He said they were reluctant, but made the burger for him, only to cook it in hamburger grease. Leoussis was upset that they didn’t cater to his lifestyle, and he said that eating at the Marketplace is hard for vegans who have meal plans. He has two vegan friends with meal plans who have to eat the same things almost every day, he said. Leoussis hopes the USU Veg club will be able to help with problems like these.

Though they have mixed reactions about support for veganism on campus
and in Cache Valley, do these vegans find support from their families?

Mattson said that though they have different views that she does, her family members are generally supportive of her. And though he was a little resistant at first, her husband was understanding when she “dropped the ball” about her decision to become vegan, she said.

“He doesn’t make me cook him a steak,” she said. Especially not now—he’s recently stopped eating beef, which is “kind of a big step for him,” she said.

Bensdottir says that though her dad was a little surprised, her family supports her veganism. This doesn’t come as too much of a surprise—her whole family is vegetarian, she says.

Woodring said that though she has friends who “totally support” her veganism, she has to bring or make her own food when she has dinner with her family.

Leoussis’ veganism was much less well-received—he said his family reacted “very poorly… My mother reacted very harshly,” he said. “My family is still not cool with it.”

True, they have to defend their views at times, and each of them goes about it their own way. Mattson said she likes to take a non-confrontational, optimistic approach when defending and discussing her views with people. But that doesn’t mean she’s not passionate about her lifestyle.

“I wish people could see any animal as their cat or dog,” she said. “People will do anything for their cat or dog but will shoot a cougar or a bobcat. It’s the same thing!”

Leoussis said he believes healthy dialogue is important and doesn’t believe in trying to impose his beliefs on people.

Woodring, a self-described “flaming liberal feminist Mormon” also doesn’t impose her beliefs on people. “My diet is motivated by morals just as not drinking alcohol is motivated by morals.” She said sometimes veganism is “hard in terms of dating,” because men think she’s going to impose her beliefs on them. But it’s not always hard—Woodring said the man she is dating right now isn’t vegetarian, but he is understanding of her beliefs.

Bensdottir said she has a hard time with people who don’t understand her beliefs.

So what else is there to understand about vegans? Perhaps Woodring
summarized it best: “We’re not weird,” she said with a smile.


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  1. One Response to “Living vegan in the valley’s not difficult, but USU campus is tougher”

  2. By Sean on Dec 19, 2009

    These stories are popping up all over the place, although not as nicely written or articulated.

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