According to a Veganuary surveyover half a million people tried going vegan for the new year in 2021. As this year’s Veganuary challenge draws to a close, students and local professionals offered Athenians their advice on how to make this lifestyle change sustainable past the month of January.
Veganuary is a movement started in 2014 that challenges people to go plant-based for the entire month of January and put a conscious focus on ethical eating habits. As the popularity of veganism increases over the years, researchers have found that a lower risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease and increased longevity are some health benefits associated with going vegan.
Athens offers a wide variety of resources and communities to turn to when making the change to a vegan lifestyle. Grocery stores like Trader Joe’s, Daily Groceries and Earth Fare provide vegan substitutes like Beyond Meat or non-dairy ice cream, and are known for offering a variety of prepared vegan foods at a reasonable price.
The Grit, Maepole, Hi-Lo Lounge, Taste of India and Mama’s Boy provide vegan options and are a few restaurants in Athens that are top-rated by the vegan community. Happy Cow is an app that lets people navigate these restaurants and come together to review, rate and share the best vegan-friendly spots, making this app an essential tool for those new to the vegan scene.
A reaction many vegans receive when sharing their lifestyle is a puzzled look and an eyebrow raise followed by the infamous question, “Where do you get your protein?” University of Georgia senior and Peer Nutrition Educator Brianna Cannova breaks down vegan diet misconceptions.
“I was vegan for four years, and some of the main misconceptions people assumed about me was that I was protein deficient, iron deficient or only eating grass,” Cannova said.
With mindful eating and planning of snacks and meals, all of the nutrient and vitamin goals that are more difficult to reach can be easily integrated into meals, Cannova said.
Cannova recommends beans and rice, peanut butter and toast, or hummus and pita bread as some basic examples of foods with both major types of protein: complete proteins, which contain all essential amino acids, and complementary proteins, which are paired with proteins complete to create a balanced meal.
Reaching out to the proper resources is key to making these simple changes sustainable. Cannova suggests looking for people with credentials like Registered Dietician (RD), Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) or Licensed Dietitian (LD) when following information on nutrition and health to get the most credible sources.
“One of the most important things to look out for when examining a source for its credibility is the team behind the message,” Cannova said.
To ensure the information you are researching is accurate, Cannova said to look out for red flags such as sponsorships or brand partnering that would influence or bias the source.
Students living on campus with meal plans also have resources to support the switch to a vegan diet. Katherine Ingerson, RD and LD for UGA Dining Services, said UGA provides students with a plethora of information on what they are being served at the dining halls. Build Your Plate is Dining Services’ online menu feature that tells students what will be served up to 10 days in advance.
In Build Your Plate, all vegetarian, vegan, heart healthy and gluten-free options are labeled with menu tags. Bolton Dining Commons’ Special Selections is an allergen-free line that serves food free of gluten and the top eight food allergies: dairy, wheat, soy, egg, fish, shellfish, tree nuts and peanuts.
Those with a meal plan are also able to meet one-on-one with a registered dietician at UGA Dining Services for free, or they can work with the dieticians at the University Health Center to get personalized nutritional advice.
“I would suggest for you to find your ‘why,’” Cannova said. “Are you going vegan for ethical reasons, sustainability or health? It doesn’t matter which, but determining the root causes of your goals will help you keep in mind why you embarked on this journey in the first place.”