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Veganism growing in popularity among ASU students, Phoenix Valley residents

The growing number of vegans at ASU and across the Phoenix Valley highlights the need for diverse dining options

Families out enjoying the warm temperatures, artisinal cuisines and lively cultures at the Phoenix Vegan Food Festival on Saturday, Feb 25., 2017.
Families out enjoying the warm temperatures, artisinal cuisines and lively cultures at the Phoenix Vegan Food Festival on Saturday, Feb 25., 2017.

As many ASU students and other Valley residents adopt a vegan lifestyle, local restaurants and on-campus dining are aiming to provide diverse and enjoyable options.  

The Phoenix Vegan Festival was held Saturday at the Phoenix Art Museum, only a few blocks away from the ASU Downtown Phoenix campus. Attendees enjoyed vegan food from local restaurants, clothing and art vendors and live music.

Vegans eat only plant-based foods, no meat, dairy or eggs. Cassie Tolman, owner of local vegan restaurant Pomegranate Cafe said she makes delicious food that just happens to be vegan.

“People are always surprised that it’s vegan food, but again, they come for good food and then they leave and go, 'Oh, that was healthy, that was vegan, I think I could eat this way,'” she said.

ASU students have made efforts to bring vegan eating to campus. Katherine Gross, a justice studies senior, petitioned the university to provide more vegan options in 2014.

Gross, who has been vegan since she was 10 years old, lived on campus as a freshman and had to buy the mandatory meal plan, but said she was disappointed by the lack of vegan options, and felt that the meal plan was a waste of her money.

She began a petition to have more vegan options included in the dining halls, and eventually got more than 2000 signatures. She also learned that students wanted vegan options for a variety of reasons, including food allergies, environmental worries, or for some international students, because meat-free dishes reminded them of the food back home.

“A lot of people are starting to see that the habit that humans have of eating so much animal products isn’t necessarily the best for our health. It’s making us so sick, destroying our environments, it’s really bad for animals,” said Gross.

Gross, who is also the president of VegAware at ASU, said the reaction from the university made her “really proud to be an ASU student.” She said they never asked to see the petition, and agreed that there should be a more diverse food selection available to students.

Gross worked with ASU and with Aramark, ASU’s campus food provider, to roll out expanded vegan and vegetarian options for students, starting with The Daily Root stations in January 2015.

According to Mike Mesenbrink, resident district manager at Aramark, ASU was used as a pilot campus to test vegan and vegetarian options that have since been rolled out to Aramark universities across the country.

ASU nutrition professor Jessica Lehmann, a registered dietitian, suggests talking to a doctor or registered dietitian before making any drastic diet changes, such as cutting out entire food groups.

She said veganism, like any diet, can be very unhealthy if it’s approached with a restrictive mindset, rather than being based on the inclusion of a variety of nutrients.

She said planning and variety are keys to success.

“Oreos, Pop-Tarts and (imitation) bacon bits are all vegetarian foods. You can be vegan with a nutrient-deficient diet,” said Lehmann.

There are now about 3.7 million vegans in the U.S., according to the Vegetarian Resource Group. Tolman said she believes veganism will continue to grow in popularity.

“More and more people are eating this way and we’re eating this way because it’s good for our bodies, it’s also good for the earth, it’s actually now good for the economy so it’s just a really holistic good way to change your life,” said Tolman.

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