I don’t quite remember what led up to this conversation, but one night during my freshman year at UC Berkeley, my friend proclaimed that she wanted to try veganism. We were neighbors in our Unit 1 dorm, and evening conversations in her room were typical between us. When she suggested I go vegan with her, I was skeptical. While I liked the idea of being more conscious of animal rights, I worried about limited protein and fewer options in the dining halls. Still, I randomly agreed to join my friend.
While I applaud those who eliminate all animal products from their lives for ethical reasons, my main focus for trying veganism was different. Instead, I wanted to see if I could develop new eating habits by being aware of what I was putting into my body.
At this point, I had used food for comfort for a long time, and I was starting to notice the negative effects of this on my body and mentality. I went into my friend’s challenge hoping to resolve some of those issues in addition to experiencing food in a new way.
One of the (very few) perks of UC Berkeley’s dining halls is their vegetarian- and vegan-friendly options. I quickly realized that Café 3 was the place to eat at if I wanted to ensure that I would have access to plant-based options. After eating more tofu dishes than I could count, Café 3 became my preferred choice of where to spend my precious meal points. The dining hall has even earned UC Berkeley a spot in a ranking of the Top 25 Most Vegan-Friendly Universities.
Still, as with any dining hall, the food is mediocre at best. Don’t be fooled, future freshmen: You will grow to despise it, too. If I had to go anywhere, though, it would be Cafe 3.
If you decide to try veganism, don’t just stick to dining halls — try exploring vegan restaurants in the area. Thankfully, Berkeley is home to lots of them. One of my favorites is Timeless Coffee — its pastries and chocolates are amazing. If you’re in Downtown, The Butcher’s Son serves great “meats” and “cheeses” at its vegan delicatessen. Restaurants such as these served as treats in my diet as well as examples of how fun vegan food (and food in general) should be.
Alas, though, my vegan experience was not all rainbows and butterflies. Three weeks in, I got food poisoning, presumably from a Crossroads black bean burger — are we surprised? For the next few days, all I could eat was bread and bananas, causing my health to worsen because of an undiagnosed gluten intolerance. Although I didn’t know why I was feeling worse at the time, I realized that the vegan diet was not completely for me.
It’s been more than six months since my short-lived experiment, and although I haven’t been vegan for a while, I still learned a lot from trying it. Before getting sick, my stomach felt better because I had eliminated eggs, and my skin cleared up because I wasn’t eating dairy. These changes encouraged me to finally get the allergy test I had been putting off. The test revealed I had slight gluten and egg allergies, which explain why I reacted to bread while I was sick.
Now, I avoid gluten, eggs and dairy whenever possible, which makes me aware of what I put in my body. I still love a good vegan substitute or restaurant, knowing that these offerings will be just as tasty and better for my health. While I may not be plant-based anymore, I’m very glad for the brief time that I was. So thank you, veganism, for teaching me about myself, my body and the wonders of dairy-free ice cream.
Contact Erin Haar at [email protected].