The Tab’s guide: How to eat more sustainably at Cambridge
Changing your diet doesn’t have to break the bank
Veganuary is nearly over, and to be completely honest, I totally forgot about it. However, whether it’s Veganuary or not, with experts predicting that the effects of global warming will be irreversible in around 11 years time, there is no time like the present to start trying to eat more sustainably to help protect our planet.
That being said, as somebody who has been meat-free for several years, it always makes me wince when people judge those who don’t adopt a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle. Of course, there are many things we can all, and should all be doing to try and save the planet – and of course, veganism alone is nowhere near enough to slow down climate change – but the overly aesthetic, idealised promotion of plant-based living often seen online, is something that has often struck me as reeking of privilege.
The decision to go plant-based is not always an accessible one for everyone – be that for health, financial, or other reasons – and choosing to be vegan often signifies a level of privilege which not everyone has. With this in mind, we spoke to a few Cambridge students who live vegan or low-waste lifestyles, to ask them for their tips on how to live and eat more sustainably at university without breaking the bank.
Hall often has great vegan options
Vegan options are regularly available and affordable across colleges, which makes going vegan a little easier by removing the pressure of having to cook for yourself. Some colleges set up their hall design so that vegan options are the first option on offer, and many colleges have introduced Meat-Free Mondays to encourage students to incorporate some more green eating into their diet. Next time you go to hall, why not check out the vegetarian options – trust us, half the time you won’t even notice you’re not eating meat!
Cooking at home
Whilst many of the vegan students who spoke to the Tab Cambridge recognised that buying vegan meals in college is a good place to start, many often personally preferred to cook for their own food. One Jesus student explained that “cooking is always fun, and if you do it with others you can easily split the cost and time. Sharing is caring!”
Trying to cook vegan food yourself for the first time could be an enjoyable new challenge for you and your friends to do together, a way to try new foods and meals and a chance to spend some quality time together in the midst of a busy week.
Making sure you’re still getting the right nutrients
If you decide to cut down your meat and dairy consumption, one of the things you had better quick get used to is comments about where you’re going to get your protein from. As eye-rolling as this question is, it’s good to have some good protein sources up your sleeve!
Tofu is a well-known vegan substitute for meat, and a good source of protein, but it can also be bland. Tempeh is a different option, also made from soybeans, but (in my mind), a little more tasty than tofu, and a similarly great form of protein. Whilst both tofu and tempeh may take a bit of getting used to, with the right herbs and spices they can both be used as fab additions to many vegan and vegetarian dishes. If you’re missing meat, there are a great range of vegan substitutes: why don’t you try Richmond vegan sausages or Linda McCartney’s meatless meatballs?
Useful in many plant-based meals, beans such as chickpeas and kidney beans provide protein and key complex carbs that are an important part of any meat-free diet and are easy to be incorporated in meals, from chillis, to soups, to curries.
For dairy-free milk alternatives, I find soya and oat milk to be the best, and again, both are helpful sources of protein. Oat milk is also super quick to make – by just blending and straining about 1 cup of oats, to around 3-4 cups of water, you can make another cheap and easy vegan alternative (or, if you’re feeling lazy, soya and oat milk can, of course, be picked up form Mainsbury’s!)
It’s important to remember though, when introducing changes to your diet to check in with how your body is feeling and make sure that what you’re eating is making you feel happy as well as healthy. It’s often a good idea to introduce vegan substitutes gradually (it doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing process!)
It’s also worth remembering that vegan and vegetarian foods can often be lower in calories, so make sure you’re eating enough to fuel yourself, and it can be worth consulting a doctor before introducing big changes to your diet. Keep checking in with yourself and how you feel – a meat-free diet shouldn’t feel restrictive!
Where to shop
If you’re looking to start shopping for vegan food, it seems like Market Square is the place to be. The fruit and veg stall at the local market was recommended by nearly every student The Tab Cambridge spoke to, as the best place to get plastic free, locally sourced produce.
Although many of these students acknowledged goods from the market can be expensive, the food available in Cambridge market is often better value than that found in Sainsbury’s. As well as this, if you generally just cook for yourself, buying single items makes meal prepping a lot easier too, and helps reduce waste and save money along the way.
Kefeshe and Harvey, who are both students at Jesus, also suggested Full Circle, a zero waste shop near the centre of town, as a good place to purchase basic ingredients without the excess packaging.
Still, if you prefer to stock up at Sainsbury’s or Aldi, you can always opt for plastic-less fruit and vegetables, using your own bag to carry your produce in.
Coming up with ideas for vegan meals
A tip provided by many of the students who spoke to the Tab was to adapt meals that you already know and love, as this will help ease your way into any significant dietary change. Kefeshe elaborated on this more, admitting that she dived straight into veganism when she arrived at Cambridge in October, having only been vegetarian for a couple of months. Now, with hindsight, she sees how this made her change in diet harder for her.
In fact, if you’re looking for more ideas for vegan meals to make, Kefeshe often shares her advice on veganism on her YouTube channel, something that Anna, another fresher at Clare, also does. Both of their channels are great resources to find out more about how to make simple, tasty, and vegan food, always on a student budget.
Introducing meat-free and vegan alternatives does not have to be expensive, but it will require some planning to make cheap ingredients, like beans and pulses, into tasty meals. Having the time to look into new recipes and routines is of course another sign of privilege, but in sharing a commitment to change with others – perhaps by doing vegan cooking with your friends, or going to Meat Free Monday if your college hall does it – you can split the cost as well as the responsibilities.
The social aspect of vegan cooking
The vegan students who spoke to The Tab explained more about this social aspect of veganism – because they now have to think more about what they eat, it makes cooking all the more of a social event. The Cambridge Vegan society was mentioned by a couple of students as a great way to learn more about green eating, whilst becoming part of another community at Cambridge. Other students spoke about the social side of cooking and eating with their housemates as a great way to enjoy the process of cooking.
What to do if you’re struggling to introduce changes
Most importantly, don’t beat yourself up. Throwing yourself in at the deep end, by immediately opting for a vegan diet, would be hard enough for even the most expert of cooks, no matter how much time they had on their hands. At uni, when limited in both time and money, a lot of us opt for what’s easiest. If cutting down on your meat consumption is something you’re committed to trying, I’d suggest designating up to a couple of days, or meals, a week, to first try and introduce changes. By establishing a routine on what you’re going to eat, and when you’re going to eat it, it should be much easier to bring in new habits.
Cooking and eating should be something to look forward to, and not a chore. In short, being kind to yourself when introducing change is one of the most important things to remember.
Although introducing major dietary change may not feel feasible for some students (and it is never our place to sit in judgement!) any way to slowly introduce greener alternatives into your cooking is a positive thing, whether that be through eating vegan in hall, trying some vegan cooking with friends, or perhaps going along to The Cambridge Vegan Society to learn more (and experience a potluck!)
Ultimately, adapting meals you already know and love is one of the first ways you can introduce change. Doing this, may not always involve cracking open the jackfruit or making a complicated meal from scratch, but it will involve making a positive difference.
Featured image credit: Hannah Samuel-Ogbu