In a state where beef is, and has long been, what’s for dinner, most people who hear the words “Nebraska” and “vegan” in the same sentence would wait for the coming punchline.
However, Katie Kellogg hasn’t touched meat, dairy or anything containing animal by-product for more than five years. Kellogg is a freshman elementary special education major at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
“Honestly, the biggest challenge isn’t the diet, it’s dealing with the people who don’t get it,” Kellogg said. “They want to make fun of being vegan, but I’ve heard it all – they’re pretty unoriginal.”
“Going vegan” is not only a diet concerning animal and animal by-product consumption, but a lifestyle choice.
Vegan Society member Eva Batt, known for pioneering vegan cookbooks, once famously described the philosophy as “a way of life that avoids exploitation, whether it be of our fellow men, the animal population or the soil upon which we rely for our very existence.”
“I went vegan because it was a moral thing for me,” Kellogg said. “I don’t agree with the way animals are treated at places like factory farms and slaughterhouses.”
Especially in Nebraska, Kellogg said she feels most people have skewed ideas about vegans.
“People think we’re health gurus, but I really don’t eat a lot of salad and I’m not working out all the time,” she said. “And we’re definitely not all hippies.”
Melissa Rodriguez, a freshman English major, has been a vegan for almost two years. However, she said her choice “wasn’t really about religion or morals.”
“I gave up meat first and gradually I started leaning toward all organic foods,” Rodriguez said. “I just feel so much more healthy, like I have more energy. I like to feel good about what I consume.”
Pam Edwards, assistant director of dining services at UNL, said maintaining vegan options in the dining halls can be a difficult proposition.
“It’s a bit challenging from the perspective of knowing the number of vegan students we’re catering to,” Edwards said. “We want the quality of our food to be good and we don’t want to compromise that with excess food sitting out.”
In the UNL dining halls, vegetarian and vegan options are marked with yellow labels.
Edwards said the most challenging vegan-friendly meal is breakfast. Although the dining halls offer vegetarian bacon and sausage, they both still contain egg whites.
“If a vegan student at UNL is having trouble finding vegan options in the dining halls, I encourage them to let us know,” Edwards said. “We’ll work with them.”
After five years, Kellogg said veganism has become second nature.
“I’m planning on doing this for the rest of my life,” she said. “I can’t really see myself going back now.”
For some perspective, I went vegan for a week and documented my personal experiences.
Going vegan for the first time in your life is a lot like when you pour a bowl of cereal, only to realize the milk is gone. Then you search the fridge for something else for breakfast, and it turns out there’s only a bottle of ketchup and a few leftover soy sauce packets, so you end up going back to sleep, comforted only by a bag of frozen peas you hope will thaw out soon.
My first day as a vegan has been filled with confusion and the realization that basically everything I eat contains some form of dairy or eggs or is meat. After a meal last night that resembled The Last Supper, I was vulnerable and didn’t know what to do, so all I ate was half a box of fruit snacks. Granted, they were gluten-free, but that was Vegan Fail No. 1, because a true vegan probably wouldn’t eat something that claims it’s fruit but looks like a smiley face.
I’ve had a vega-normous craving for some three-cheese chicken nachos from Qdoba all day. Which leads me to Vegan Fail No. 2. Instead, I ate a cup of chicken ramen noodles, thinking the flavoring was artificial.
Not only is the flavoring made with chicken fat and powdered cooked chicken, but I’m probably going to Vegan Hell for even enjoying the taste of chicken, artificial or not.
I redeemed myself by giving the vegan options at the dining hall a chance (which, since the vegan population isn’t exactly huge, are very few and far between). I settled on a veggie-vegan garden burger, which is found right next to the juicy beef ones. I’ll just say it neither resembles a garden nor a burger. However, if you don’t think about it, it’s edible.
Whatever vegan points I earned today were violently destroyed the second I absentmindedly started munching on some Cheez-Its at a going-away party – Vegan Fail No. 3. As much as I don’t want to believe it, cheez is cheese.
It has been a good day, full of salads and more salads.
I went to a coffee place with a friend and I had to ask the barista what vegan options they had. For some reason, I could tell she knew I was a fraud, so I quickly explained that, no, I’m not actually a vegan, I’m just doing it for a week and I’m not very good at it. Then my friend mentioned the Cheez-Its from the night before, and the girl (who turned out to be a vegan) gave me a condescending look and a smoothie.
I must have angered the vegan gods because I woke up sick today. I’ve really only drank lots and lots of tea to get rid of my sore throat. Copious amounts of tea. I am a tea-gan. The fun fact for today is that Kleenex lotion tissues are gluten-free and vegan friendly. Which is great because it would really suck to have to use leaves or something.
I had an epiphany when I opened my fridge and my roommate’s string cheese didn’t talk to me. Honestly, the vegan thing isn’t so bad.
In between veggie wraps, hummus and Naked Juice, I’ve been having weird vegan impulses.
For instance, I’ll be watching someone eat a sub with five layers of bacon and a side of bacon – and suddenly I’m fighting the urge to go all Charlotte’s Web on them.
Call it overconfidence, but I’m painting with the colors of the wind, my friend.
So, say I decide to go vegan for the rest of my life. Does this mean I earn the right to special privileges? Will I be able to talk to animals? If I sing, will a bluebird come perch on my windowsill? I’m going to say I at least get the right to rub it in other people’s animal-killing faces.
I think I may be reaching the end of my gluten-free, all-natural, not-tested-on-animals rope. In my geology lab, I actually compared the metamorphism of rocks to medium-rare and well-done steaks while the vegan gods laughed above.
I barely made it through the week, so I wouldn’t say I’m a prime candidate for the vegan lifestyle, maybe just for some prime rib.
However, I have gained some major respect for vegans. You can’t really understand the determination and willpower it takes until you’ve tried it yourself. We carnivores may think it’s crazy, but anyone willing to make that much sacrifice in order to stand by his or her beliefs is pretty impressive. They’re defending animal rights while our major movement is No-Shave November.