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How to be a vegan – and an Oxford student

I have a disturbing secret to admit, which might cause people to think I’m crazy, and Katie Hopkins to think I’m smelly: I’m vegan.

I have been vegan for over four years, and I can honestly say I have never found it difficult. Choosing a path of compassion and non-violence feels much easier to me than the alternative, and I firmly believe a vegan lifestyle makes positive contributions towards one’s mental and physical health, both human and non-human welfare, and the environment. What’s more is that one does not need to consume animal products in order to live a healthy life.

I am often reminded how fortunate I am to come from a household that supports my dietary choices, and to have been raised on South Indian cuisine, which can be so effortlessly veganised. I have come to realise this is not the case for my peers from different backgrounds – but university can be the perfect opportunity to assert your independence and choose your own lifestyle.

Despite Oxford being a fairly small city, it has a surprising number of vegan-friendly places. Some recommendations from a certified vegan are: The Coconut Tree, Chick Pea, Delhish Vegan Kitchen, Dosa Park, and of course, Najar’s (they have vegan mayo, ask for it!). A special mention goes to the banana bread French toast at the Handle Bar and the vegan doughnuts at Crosstown. However, I always wish there were more options, especially affordable ones, which perhaps only Najar’s gets points for. 

But what about students who want more than falafel and hummus? Cooking for yourself as a vegan is not nearly as expensive and difficult as people will tell you it is. While realistic meat alternatives can be pretty pricey, many staple sources of protein for vegans, such as beans and lentils, are in fact cheaper than their animal counterparts. Once you’ve secured said affordable vegan goods, a quick google search for ‘easy student vegan recipes’ will show you that you are almost definitely capable of executing a simple dhal or chilli. In fact, there are many cuisines around the world which are not centred around animal products. Ethiopian, Indian, and Mediterranean cuisines, among others, have largely vegan foundations, showing that the idea that one cannot live on a diet that is simultaneously sustainable, nutritious, and tasty, is entirely unfounded.

When it comes to college cuisine, I am privileged to be at St John’s, where hall food is incredibly affordable, and – for the most part – quite nice, with rare (devastatingly bad) exceptions (including a harrowing tempeh dish I still have nightmares about). A special shoutout goes out to the college café, at which the ratio of plant-based to non-vegan options is 2:1, not to mention the fact that there is always at least one vegan cake to choose from. By contrast, although I have generally had good experiences at formals, I have consistently been disappointed by my dessert. I just want to consume a meal that doesn’t inflict pain and suffering on others, whilst still having a sweet treat that looks like what’s in front of everyone sitting around me – is that too much to ask? Apparently so, considering the number of delicately plated fruit platters I’ve reluctantly eaten at the end of a John’s formal. 

My friends make fun of me, I am persistently asked “where on earth do you get your protein from?” and I will, tragically, never have a post-club night kebab. But I will always prefer it to the alternative, and I am proud to be happy, healthy, and 100% plant based.

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