The diary of a collegiate vegan

By From page A6 | December 13, 2012

By Catherine White

After being recruited to Duke University for the women’s crew team during my senior year of high school, I felt it was not only my job to take care of my body for my athletic duties, but that this great privilege came with great responsibility.

It was after watching a documentary called “Forks Over Knives” by Lee Fulkerson about the factory farming industry that I found my passion as well as my responsibility to society. Realizing that my food choices were imposing great suffering on thousands of animals annually, I found it hard to justify my eating habits as acceptable. The more I looked into the industry, the more I realized that my food choices were not only leading to immense animal suffering, but human suffering as well from environmental decay to potential diseases.

It didn’t take more than two days after watching the film for me to go vegan. Given the fact that I was fresh from qualifying for Junior Nationals for the women’s eight varsity boat with the Upper Natomas Rowing Club, my decision to change my lifestyle came with great resistance from my all-American, Costco-shopping, Suburban-driving family, who thought my career depended on my consumption of animal protein.

Knowing this was yet another corporate ideal supported by our media, I decided to let my body do the talking and not all of those commercials insisting that I needed to stalk up on milk products to have strong bones. To prove to my skeptics that I could still have a pulse with a plant-based diet, I decided to run the San Francisco Marathon on a vegan diet. I had never felt more alive or healthier in my entire life. I was able to run the entire marathon without walking, and I placed 30th in my age group!

Furthermore, being a young woman and a reluctant product of my society, veganism was a great alternative to stay slim and lose that stubborn pouch we all know about. I can honestly say that all of those late-night cravings for ice cream and cookies were gone once nature fueled my body instead of factories.

However, as college started, I found it difficult to maintain the lifestyle that made me feel fully “alive.” Not only did I lose the luxury of cooking all of my foods — since freshmen are required to eat at the dining hall twice a day — I found that the world outside of my home life was not very supportive of my veganism. Being a vegan started to feel more like a full-time job than a passion, with processed foods around every corner, animal products in just about everything except water and lettuce, alcohol galore and a lifestyle that disconnected me from nature completely and transformed my running hours to library hours in the fluorescent-lit rooms with vending machines to aid in my late nights.

Now that I am in my studious collegiate mind-set where I observe everything and question everyone, it is obvious that our large food producers do not support a nutritious, plant-based, organic diet since it is easier to reach for chips and a burger than it is to get my hands on a crisp organic Fuji apple. Then again, let’s be real. Who are these corporations looking out for? Our health or their profits?

So here I am today, urging you to let your body, not the media, be the guide to your health. Getting back in touch with nature and harmony with animals was one of the most enriching experiences I have had. I hope I will soon be ale to balance my veganism and my Duke life with greater ease.

My hope is that as vegans become a more dominant culture, it will be easier for passionate young people such as myself to continue to do what they believe is their duty to humanity and the planet without feeling that it is becoming a burden. If the environmental, health and welfare aspects of factory farming are not enough to promote a plant-based diet, how about losing that pouch and looking good while doing some good!

— Catherine White attended Davis High School for her sophomore and junior years, and graduated from St. Francis High School in Sacramento. She is a freshman at Duke University.

Special to The Enterprise

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