Vegetarian, vegan students look forward to spring’s fresh produce

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As we approach the tail end of a seemingly anticlimactic Chicago winter, ants are slowly beginning to show their backs, the sun is warming up the concrete and soon, farmer’s markets will return to Chicago’s streets to provide fresh, locally grown produce.

Spring is a great time for many vegetarians and vegans in the city, especially those in college, who get to enjoy affordable, in-season organic produce for their diets.

Vegetarians, while not to be confused with vegans, abstain wholly from meat, poultry and seafood. Vegans, on the other hand, refrain from using and consuming all animal products. This includes abstaining from food or products that contain ingredients such as milk, honey and beeswax.

It’s no secret that having certain dietary restrictions can be difficult to work with while managing a tight college budget, especially when it comes to finding accommodating restaurants.

But as vegetarianism and veganism are becoming increasingly common, many restaurants and grocery stores are beginning to offer a number of plant- based alternatives that change seasonally

and honor specialty requests made by customers, which makes eating and shopping while vegan or vegetarian manageable.

Range, a restaurant located at 1119 W. Webster Ave., near DePaul’s Lincoln Park campus, offers a variety of vegetarian-friendly items on their menu, but is always open to customer modifications.

“If there is something else we can accommodate, we always do it. But there are a number of items on our dinner menu that are already vegetarian or gluten free,” said Megan Klein, the general manager at Range.

“It’s really about making sure you’re eating enough and getting the right nutrition as for any diet.” – Danielle Ramos, sophomore at DePaul University.

On campus, DePaul’s dining services have altered their menu in order to accommodate vegetarian and vegan students’ needs. This winter quarter, additional veggie options were added to the menu and the amount of plant-based options offered increased, which is a significant improvement when compared to past quarters, explained DePaul Dining Services Director Matt Williams.

“One of the things we’ve been doing, this (quarter) specifically, is working with what is a plant-forward menu – offering more vegetable-based items and basing the menu around the side dishes,” Williams said.

According to Williams, dining services is offering more vegetarian options as well, with one of the more recent improvements being the adjustment of the buffet – which allows items to be customizable – and increasing salad bar options from 15 items to 24.

Though for those who want to shop on their own for fresh, nutritious vegetarian and vegan-friendly items but are worried about the cost, according to sophomore Danielle Ramos, who has been vegan for a little over two years, when it comes to shopping for groceries affordably “you can make it as expensive or inexpensive as you want.”

“You’ve got to learn food hacks, kind of like taking a bunch of veggies from the salad bar home to turn into a different meal instead of just making salads,” Ramos said.

Ramos explained that when she shops at Whole Foods for groceries, she heads towards the cheap produce or buys in bulk, only spending around $15-30 per week.

“I’m definitely spending less on groceries than I did before I went vegan, so it’s very possible if you want it to be,” Ramos said.

ETC, a convenience store located in the Student Center, also offers some vegan- friendly frozen meals, salad dressings and dairy products. This is great for vegans and vegetarians like freshman Maggie Timboe, who purchases most of her groceries at ETC. That’s where she gets “the basics,” but she heads to the local Whole Foods for any specialty items.

“That’s where I go if I want treats like meatless chicken nuggets or coconut milk yogurt,” Timboe said.

The cheapest option, which offers the most variety, is gathering ingredients in the store and making meals at home. Whether someone is vegetarian, vegan or just wants to adopt healthier, more affordable practices while grocery shopping, meal planning is essential.

“Start with basics,” said sophomore Maeve Sheridan, who has been vegan for two years. “Make a list of things you like to eat – rice, beans, vegetables, tofu, pasta, etc.,” Sheridan said. “Then, work your way through your grocery store or campus and find these staples so that you always have an option.”