The Sustainable College Eater's Dilemma

One of the toughest aspects of my month of green living is eating less meat. Trading chicken, beef, lamb and the like for tofu, stir fries and the occasional protein bar has proved far more difficult than anticipated. And depending on the location and your own budget, eating less meat can be even more challenging, as I’ve learned in the past couple of weeks.

My parents are vegetarians. (Well, my dad is, and since where one goes the other often follows, my mom is quickly joining the veggie ranks, too.) When I visited them this past weekend, meeting my low-meat goals (I’ve cut my intake by 75 percent) was easy—protein vitamin shakes, breads and fruit for breakfast; salads and vegetarian sandwiches for lunch; and often tofu stir fry or occasionally fish (which my folks haven’t entirely given up) for dinner. On the drive home from their house on Monday, I thought to myself, I could do this whole vegetarian thing no problem.

Then I got back to school. The semester is nearing its end, I’m busier than I’ve ever been, thus time to cook is limited - if present at all. As a result, I eat out and on the run for probably a majority of my meals. And after two weeks of trying to eat mostly vegetarian meals with only a spare few servings of meat, what I’ve learned is this:

It’s really difficult to eat healthy, appetizing meals without meat on a college student’s budget.

Yes, there are fantastic vegetarian restaurants in Ann Arbor—but they’re hardly cheap for a college student trying to stretch out a dollar. And the vegetarian offerings at other restaurants are mostly delicious, but those places are usually sit-down establishments, which isn’t conducive to a busy college student’s schedule.

So what I’ve ended up eating as of late are a lot of slices of veggie pizza (delicious but a bit too greasy), paltry side salads from fast food joints and innumerable peanut butter sandwiches.

For anyone knowledgeable about food policy or rising obesity rates in the U.S., the dearth of quick, healthy food options is old news. But having not paid too much attention to what I eat until joining the legion of Michael Pollan acolytes and then beginning this project, I never realized how little healthy food is available for busy people on a budget. And, to be honest, the healthy-ish food out there right now—the salads and baked potatoes—tastes pretty awful. Not to mention that this kind of fast food usually comes packaged in excess amounts of plastic and paper all stuffed into an oversized paper bag bound for the garbage can.

So what to do for a college student-turned-semi-vegetarian? I could pack my own lunches with more vegetarian meals, which I plan to do when my schedule lightens and the next paycheck arrives. I could suck it up and learn to enjoy the Wendy’s “side item” offerings more; after all, my baked potato and plain salad cost a mere $4.50 or so today. I suppose moving back in with mom and dad is an option, but I’ve already done that once, and my parents have replaced my brother and I with dogs and a cat; us kids are old news.

A reader of one of my earlier posts was nice enough to send me a few vegetarian recipes, and I intend to use those soon. But do any other readers have some suggestions for a veggie-minded, cash-strapped, hectic college student? I’d love to hear them if you do with a comment here or an e-mail at akroll [at]