I Tried…Going Vegan at NYU

In the coming weeks, WSN’s Features Desk will be rolling out a series we’re calling “I Tried…” Each piece will feature a member of our staff who’s added something new, weird or a little crazy to their lives. In the first entry, Deputy News Editor Diamond Naga Siu tells the story of her ongoing quest to eat vegan on a meal plan.

Starting Dec. 1, I went cold turkey on my diet and turned vegan. But veganism does not actually allow cold turkey, since the dietary practice eliminates meat, dairy and any animal products (including eggs, butter, cheese and milk). Rather than changing my eating habits for my health or body image, I decided to go vegan for a month to help advocate for animal rights.

Watching the documentary “Vegucated” during a dorm event spurred my sudden activism. To be honest, I only went for the free empanadas — apologies to my RA — but the horrific images of the industry’s unethical practices changed my perception of animal product consumption. I saw newborn chicks stuffed inside grocery bags, animals sorted via conveyor belts and cows milked on massive scales.

But I watched the documentary right before Thanksgiving and could not bear sacrificing meat and mashed potatoes on this sacred day of eating, so I started my vegan experiment in December. 

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Though some friends called my sudden decision to go vegan stupid and others taunted me with pictures of creamy, meaty and cheesy treats, the controlled dining hall environment provided a perfect setting to test this new diet.  

All photos courtesy of Diamond Naga Siu.
All photos courtesy of Diamond Naga Siu.

The first meal was rough, since my normal breakfast of coffee and a bagel with cream cheese from Dunkin Donuts was not allowed. Instead of getting my caffeine fix, I visited Downstein for more options, but as I surveyed the selection I realized I could not eat most of it — yogurt, cereal, omelets and even French toast use animal products.

Wandering the dining hall listlessly, I finally settled on cereal with soymilk but after my first spoonful, I realized I had overlooked the possibility that Rice Chex could contain eggs or butter. With some panicked Google searching, I was relieved to find the cereal animal-product free.

To give the dining halls credit, they do a reasonable job of labeling their food: most are named, a few provide allergen information and some even note dishes that cater to special diets. Often, though, I relied on common sense — and many online searches — to determine a dish’s “vegan-ness.”

However, the dining hall’s labels were sometimes incorrect so I would try taking advantage of those mislabels. At one of my lower points, I looked to my friend, whose family is largely vegan, and begged, “If the chicken soup is marked vegan, I can have it, right?”

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She shot me an amused but disapproving look, so I caved and opted for a salad instead. With my friends keeping me in check, I got used to eliminating cheese (note: no Mexican food) and avoiding Palladium brunch (with all its milkshake and pastry temptations.)

But then winter vacation came, and the impossible happened: veganism became even harder. NYU’s meal plan includes over ten locations, and each boasted many unique food choices. However, my family’s traditional Chinese cooking made it impossible to avoid eating meat, eggs and fish over break. I reevaluated the situation, dropping my veganism and creating a New Year’s resolution to go vegan every other month during 2016.

After settling back into school, I commenced my resolution in February, and I adopted the mantra, “new month, new vegan.” To better equip myself, I assumed new habits along the way — including educating myself about the dietary practice and journaling my meals.

I spent time learning how many foods were compatible with my new diet, which left me less hungry and more content. Rather than grabbing a plate of cucumbers and a cup of Jamba Juice for lunch and dinner, I learned that I could find burgers, noodles and even sushi that conformed to my diet. By scrutinizing before selecting dining hall food, I consumed vegan burritos and ice cream; these treats transformed my month.

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Striving for greater food awareness, I started tracking my food consumption. This not only made me more calorie conscious, but it also made me feel guilty if I ever slipped in my eating behaviors.

I used an app called MyFitnessPal to record everything I was eating, but it set unrealistic weight loss goals, which was not my reason for turning vegan. So going old school, I recorded my all my meals and snacks in a planner —  even if I accidentally ingested animal products or if I granted myself a cheat day.

While articles and studies support veganism’s cost-friendliness, it is hard to replace cheese, ice cream and milk on a tight budget. NYU dining locations include dairy-free ice cream and alternative milk options, but outside this controlled environment, meat and dairy substitutes are impractical in terms of cost and convenience.

I discovered this during brunch on Valentine’s Day, when nothing on the menu of the restaurant I was eating at was vegan so I acquiesced to my meat, butter and egg cravings. After a full two weeks of abstinence from animal products, I was surprised to feel greasy and unsettled from eating two eggs.

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My foray into veganism taught me how to eat cleanly and how to recognize what is in my food, but its sustainability is questionable. My vegan diet lacks nutrients such as calcium, zinc and iron, but it’s also critically low in vitamin B12, which almost exclusively comes from animal products. Since I only attempt strict veganism every other month, I see no harm in continuing my New Year’s resolution, though this might change when I abandon my meal plan next semester.
As this month comes to an end, I will continue observing veganism, just with less vigilance. I might occasionally eat omelets, burritos and sushi (with fish!), but after finding meat relatively easy to cut out and a balanced diet the most satisfying, I think I could go without cold turkey in my life.

Email Diamond Naga Siu at [email protected] 

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19 COMMENTS

  1. I went vegan over 12 years ago, initially out of disgust for how animals were treated, then grounded on the moral principle that exploitation and unnecessarily and intentionally inflicted harm on sentient beings is wrong, regardless of species membership.

    I was the first vegan I ever knew, and expected it to be extremely difficult. At first, it was difficult. But over the months, as I researched and learned more, it became much easier. After about 2 years, I was on autopilot; and being vegan has been very easy for me for the past 10 years.

    Take it easy on yourself early on while you learn all you can about options and dietetics. Don’t be afraid to supplement certain things like B12. Many animal product consumers, especially older people, are deficient in certain nutrients, such as magnesium, D, and B12; but since they assume they’re well-nourished, they’re unaware of it. Vegans generally pay more attention to possible deficiencies, and therefore are often better nourished.

  2. Vegan diets are low in iron, calcium and zinc? Please correct that in your article. Spinach has 15 TIMES more iron than steak. Nuts and leafy greens are higher in calcium than milk, and peanuts and pumpkin seeds have the SAME amount of zinc in them as beef.
    Please correct your st as statements so as not to be misleading:)

  3. It’s great that you are giving a plant-based diet a try and I’m amazed at your Uni offers dairy-free ice-cream! I wish…! I’d recommend researching more on nutrition tho!

    It’s true that buying fake cheese, meats and vegan prepared meals that emulate meat dishes is expensive and not the healthiest option, but getting some soy/almond/rice/oat milk and soy/coconut yogurt here and there is not as expensive. Think that you are already saving TONS of money not buying meat, fish, eggs and dairy and meat/fish is really expensive when compered to plant foods.

    When I first treid to go vegan I tried to just eat the same meals I used to have with bought processed imitations… needless to say it was terrible, expensive and not healthy!

    Regarding nutrition, the only two essential vitamins that you can’t get from a vegan diet are vit D (sun!) and B12 (Which animals get from the soil and suplements given to them) and those are 2 that even omnivours are very often deficient in. You can get those from fortified milks or cerals or take a suplement of course. Regarding, omega-3, you can get ALA type from flaxseed, walnuts, soy beans, olive oil… And our own body can convert that into EPA and DHA type if you get enough ALA, but just in case you could get a vegan suplement for that.

    Everything else is really easy to get from plants with enough knowledge and planning. Regarding the 3 specific things you mentioned:

    Calcium: broccoli, kale, edamame, figs, oranges, white beans, tofu and almonds (and fortified plant-milks).
    Zinc: pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds (or tahini), cashews, hemp, lentils, almonds, oats, quinoa, sunflower seeds, chia seeds, cacao, tofu, chickpeas, kidney beans and green peas.
    Iron: hemp seeds, raisins, cashews, kale, pumpkin seeds, beans, prunes, legumes, oats, quinoa, chia seeds, cacao, tempeh and sunflower seeds.

    Good luck 🙂

  4. Vegan diets aren’t low in iron, calcium and zinc and B12.

    It is easy for ANY diet (even your average persons “mostly healthy”) to be low in these things, It is not an unsustainable lifestyle choice if you actually do some research to enable you to eat the right things.

    Another article to put the masses off veganism because there wasn’t enough effort put into doing the challenge properly.

    Your tastebuds or convenience are not more important than lives.

  5. I find I spend less on my vegan diet than before, but then I don’t feel the need to buy excessive cheese and milk in their non dairy form.
    As Dan said, at first it is hard, and you make mistakes, but stick at it and remind yourself why you are being vegan helps.
    I rarely need to read labels and I have become a more accomplished Baker and cook now.
    Veganism is great!

  6. One other way to get all of those nutrients you say a vegan diet lacks is to grow your own food. There are plently of instructional videos on how to grow fruits and vegetables on your apartment patio/balcony. With the exception of almonds and other nuts that come from trees, most of the other fruits and vegetables mentioned above can be grown in a small space. As for B12..it doesn’t take a lot to maintain a healthy body. B12 stores in your system and will take a while to be “used up”. Supplementing with a vegan B12, like Spirulina which is one of the Blue Green Algaes that make this vitamin, is easy since it can be taken in pill form or added to smoothies.

    Good Luck with your transition!

  7. sounds like you need to go back to the drawing board and actually do some research on what foods give you what nutrients.

    calcium- kale, bok choi, sesame seeds, dried fruits
    zinc – pinto beans, kidney beans, almonds, walnuts, chia seeds, brocolli.
    iron – beetroot, lentils, spinach, black beans, kale, sunflower seeds
    b12 – take a supplement, its better than consuming a dead body.

    dont restrict calories, eat until you are full and good luck!

  8. You’re making an awesome effort! Keep going!

    I highly recommend reading How Not to Die by Dr. Michael Greger. It is one of my favorite books now and will definitely keep you as healthy as possible while maintaining this more ethical choice in your lifestyle.

    It is an amazing feeling once you realize the choices you make that are better for the planet and those around you are also amazing choices for yourself as well!

  9. I do appreciate your willingness to change and start going vegan but this article if full of a lot of inaccuracies. I’m a long term vegan, animal advocate, producer, actress, publicist and I speak truth and will correct inaccuracies. One is where you stated that you lack in vitamins minerals etc, including b12 on a vegan diet. That is entirely false…ENTIRELY false. So many food products add b12vegan like coconut milk etc and nori (seaweed)Vega tons of b12. Appreciate your effort but have to correct your incorrect info. I was a vgirl in this project, vgirlsvguys.net if you want to learn about veganism truly from inspiring people who care about animals in all they do, go there and read our interviews and learn. Everyone vegan for the animals and all healthy, in shape, beautiful in and out, most importantly in terms of compassion for animals. To whom wrote this article, IF you are vegan for the animals and truly make the connection that each time you eat meat, dairy it IS partaking in cruelty, you will not eat meat one day and then go vegan the next. Vegans healthier, strong and compassionate. When you realize you eating “meat” is the result of immense cruelty to a living being who had a will to live, you would never make excuses for yourself to eat meat, its just truth. Earthlings is a film that shows the immense cruelty involved in the meat and dairy I industry. I never had to watch it to make the connection. A vegan saves 100 plus animals per year, while those who consume animal products take those lives. I’d rather be on the compassionate side of the fence. It really is not difficult at all to be vegan, your health improves and your compassion on point to where it should be, love and compassion for all humans and animals, only way to do that with diet is to go vegan and its the only amazing, respectable and healthy way. There is a reason vegans are stronger in more ways than one. Anyone can choose compassion that IS strength.

  10. p.s. I see your effort but trust me no deficiencies on a vegan diet, your health improves and you are saving lives on a vegan diet rather than partaking in the cruelty
    you used the word…sacrifice, you didn’t want to sacrifice “your meat” on thanksgiving. That showed how unaware you are right now. That turkey you ate, had a will to live and right to live. They shouldn’t have to sacrifice their life and they do not want to ever, so you can eat them?! I go to events where we feed the turkeys pumpkin pie on thanksgiving. I’d much rather be on my side of the fence. Please educate yourself…next year write a new article about how you’ve evolved in your awareness and thriving and strong on a true everyday, never want to participate in the cruelty vegan diet. Just truth
    truth is based on love for you, all reading and the animals, they do not deserve to be victims of cruelty. The only way to not partake is to stop eating them. The world is still learning and kudo to you on beginning the journey to becoming aware, just don’t stop until you realize vegan everyday is the only way to go to be good to the animals and yourself.

  11. I have been vegan for 2 1/2 years and never really found it a problem. It is almost laughable for someone to act like being vegan in NYC is difficult. Sometimes , when people aren’t really sincere about their actions they make them out to be difficult to achieve. Being vegan is simple. there are so many food options and even prepared foods that are vegan and are labelled as such. If you thought that you were eating a dog instead of say a chicken or a cow you would probably not find it so difficult to maintain your diet. I thought NYU students were smart. End of rant

  12. I’ve been vegan for over 3 years and at this point I hardly ever buy vegan versions of meat and dairy. I buy 1 container of vegan milk a week, maybe creamer here or there but for the most part it’s just veggies and tofu which is not that expensive. I also feel like I eat way more balanced and nutrient rich diet as a vegan even though most people think you won’t get what you need. I do supplement b12 (but it’s like $6 for a 3 month supply). It might seem very restrictive at first but soon you realize how many foods are actually vegan and what is safe and what you need to avoid. Just a few months in I went to hating vegetables to eating huge bowls full of them several times a day. I know being vegan %100 of the time might not be for everyone but if you say you’re doing it because the thought of hurting other living creatures so you can satisfy your tastebuds and for convenience then you have to stop making excuses about not being able to eat at certain restaurants and because you’re family cooks a lot of animal based foods. Be accountable and sometimes you will have to just get the salad at a restaurant or just eat bread and veggie side dishes at thanksgiving but it’s worth it to live according to your morals.

  13. >My vegan diet lacks nutrients such as calcium, zinc and iron

    Ehhh….what? That’s not the fault of the type diet, vegan or not. The fault is in the choices of exact things you choose to eat. It’s just as easy to get enough of those nutrients as it is to not, it all depends on your choices. Actually, with just a moderate amount of leafy greens it’s nigh impossible to not get enough of those 3 in your diet.

  14. I wanted to add my voice to all those congratulating you in your efforts to reduce your animal-foods consumption. I used to get discouraged that my husband and two of my children occasionally eat animals when they’re away from home, but my husband pointed out that I’ve saved hundreds of animals by feeding them only veg food at home. Every meal makes a difference!

    I also want to encourage you by letting you know that eating vegan is actually not more expensive than eating animals. I feed a family of 5 on $200 a week (in Colorado; NYC mileage my vary), including all cleaning products and toiletries. I buy many organic products and produce, and it comes to $40 a person. I think the secret is to buy and prepare mostly whole foods, using meat & dairy analogs sparingly. When you’re ready to start cooking for yourself, check out the budget-conscious “Mastering the Art of Vegan Cooking” by Dan & Annie Shannon.

    Good luck on your vegan adventure!

  15. What a wildly inaccurate article. Bill Clinton himself just gave a talk in Las Vegas about how it just keeps getting easier to follow a vegan diet with more and better tasting meat substitutes being offered every year. I am a vegan in NYC and find it so easy to be vegan.
    Maybe if you were not a helicopter-parented kid you could manage eating on your own. Until then maybe mommy can bring you your sippy cup.

  16. The next person that will consider to share their opinion/rent/teaching/name-it-whatever-you-wish should consider the following:

    – this is an article written by a student who recognizes the issues with animal treatment, which SHOULD, first of all, congratulated!

    – This student is only starting to take initial steps towards changing her usual lifestyle and dietary choices in order to contribute to making a change in the world. Saying that she hasn’t done much research or the fact that the article is misleading is unfair, as this is written by a person who sharing her first steps towards change. Everybody will have different experiences, for some it’s easy to simply cut every non-vegan food and some need time to get used to and need more time to be more aware of the numerous food and supplement choices. Most important is the fact that she acknowledges that there is an issue and is creating her own journey. Thus, instead of bashing with negativity, which is incredibly discouraging for someone who is trying FOR THE FIRST TIME, give advice and talk about your first experiences in order to provide the author with more insights and tips.

    – LOOK AT THE TITLE! This is not an article about “How to be vegan in New York City”! This is about using meal plans, which our university forces first year students to purchase – thus limiting our choice and ability to get food outside as I’m sure after paying $2K-$3K for the meal plan you wouldn’t want to spend more money on outside cafes or restaurants – and testing how vegan-friendly are our dining halls. Yes, NYC is full of different places and possibilities to allow one to be vegan, HOWEVER, that is not the purpose of this article.

    With that said, proceed to encouraging the author to be better by providing support and examples. Please keep negativity to yourself. Diamond, you are doing great! Be more aware, do the research, and keep trying! You’ll get there.

  17. You don’t have to worry about any nutrient deficiencies at all if you are eating enough calories. Everyone in the world even meat eaters should be supplimenting B12, vegans are barely more likely to be deficient in B12 than meat eaters.

    First off you need to be eating high carb options. Fruit, rice, potatoes, and corn are some of the cheapest foods available and they are also the healthiest.

    I didn’t see you write fruit one time in this article, and that is mostly all I eat. I’m sure there is a fruit bar open all day at your dining hall. Utilize that and you will never go hungry. You don’t have to google if a fruit is vegan either so that will save you time.

  18. You shouldn’t try to go cold turkey on your normal diet if you are not committed to the lifestyle morally & grew up ingrained in thinking that’s what you need. I’ve been vegetarian all of high school &I now I’m in college as a vegan. It’s really not that hard especially living in such a cultured place as NYC! There’s tons of experimental food places there & I know at least 5 that I’m visiting when I go back this summer! Good luck on your journey, but look more into nutrient side of things

  19. It’s great that want to help animals, Diamond! I went vegan 23 years ago, when I was in college. It was the best decision I ever made! It sounds as if NYU has more vegan options than the little community college I went too, and it’s much easier to find vegan options is stores and restaurants these days.But it still helps to be prepared. My first meal as a vegan was broccoli and cauliflower, but after I bothered to do some research and go to a vegan-friendly store, I was enjoying veggie burgers, chana masala, soy yogurt, vegan chocolate, hummus, falafal, veggie stir fries, and more.

    Versatile vegan staples tend to be cheaper than animal-based foods, and they’re certainly more nutritious. You might want to check out PETA’s Vegan Starter Kit at peta.org for more health info,tips, product suggestions, recipes, and more.

    You’re off to a good start. Keep it up!

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