Two College Students Contemplate The Word “Vegan”

What does the word “vegan” really mean to the college set? Does it have positive or negative connotations? Do college students make up a significant part of the rapidly growing vegan community, or is the interest to learn about living a vegan lifestyle lacking on college campuses?

Although I don’t have the time or inclination to conduct surveys of students on our nation’s college campuses to obtain the answers to these questions, I was lucky enough to have a recent conversation with two of my son Alex’s very insightful friends, Evan Schneider and Andrew Simon, concerning the topic of veganism.

Evan and Andrew will soon be sophomores at The University of Pennsylvania and SUNY-Binghamton (my alma mater), respectively.

Andrew Simon and Evan Schneider

Andrew Simon and Evan Schneider

The spontaneous conversation erupted when Andrew and Evan came to my home to see a movie with Alex, and decided to have a pre-movie snack. My freezer contained 7 flavors of the delicious Sharon’s Sorbet, and the boys reluctantly decided to have some. Why were they reluctant? Because they observed the word “vegan” on the sorbets’ containers.

Andrew and Evan were both pleasantly surprised at how much they loved the sorbet. Evan said…

“I like sorbet more than I like ice cream. I’m a ‘sorbet person.’ I know a lot about sorbet, and this sorbet is excellent. I particularly like the lemon, passion fruit, raspberry and mango flavors.”

When I asked him why he was so surprised that it was delicious, Evan stated…

“When I looked in the freezer and saw that the sorbet was ‘vegan’, I assumed that it would not be as good as it was. The word ‘vegan’ turns me off a little.”

Andrew agreed that the word ‘vegan’ has negative connotations, even more so than the word ‘vegetarian’…

“When I think ‘vegan,’ I think ‘hippie.'”

I asked both of them if they thought of me as a “hippie.”

Andrew said: “No.”

Evan said: “No.”

Needless to say, they never did see a movie that night because we became engrossed in the ensuing conversation. Andrew said…

“We were going to come over and we were going to see a movie with Alex, and now we’re getting educated. What could be better?”

Perhaps “vegucated” would have been a better word. I try to make it a point not to bring up the “V” word around my sons’ friends, but these bright boys seemed truly interested and intrigued about the topic.

I asked Andrew what he thought vegans ate, to which he replied…

“Salad, immense amounts of salad. And soybeans and tofu.”

I said…

“That’s true, Andrew. But you would be surprised at how many foods you eat everyday which you don’t even think of as ‘vegan,’ such as an apple, peanut butter and jelly, spaghetti with marinara sauce, Oreos and Twizzlers. ‘Vegan’ is just a word, isn’t it?”

Evan and Andrew both agreed that the words “plant-based lifestyle” seem much better, evoking images of “something healthy with no negative connotations.”

Evan continued the conversation with admirable honesty and self-reflection…

“With the word ‘vegetarian,’  people just think plants. The word ‘vegan’ is more of a mystery. Perhaps I’m misinformed about the word ‘vegan.’ I just don’t really know what it is. Just that they can’t eat what vegetarians eat and more.”

I loved Evan’s proposed solution to the “mystery” surrounding the word “vegan”…

“When I see the word ‘vegan’ on a product, I assume it’s not good. Although this might be ridiculous and would never happen, it should be mandated that any product which is vegan should be marked ‘vegan’ so it’s not such a shock when you see the word. This should be done in the same way that Kosher products are marked.”

After I clarified the precise meaning of what “vegan” means (and a bit more), I asked them if they would be interested in trying a few vegan food items which would be healthier replacements for some of their current foods. They hesitantly said “yes,” and I gave each of them a small glass of unsweetened vanilla almond milk.

Evan really liked it, indicating that he would consider substituting it for cow’s milk. Andrew said…

“It kind of looks like mucous!”

Naturally, I replied that he got it mixed up, and that cow’s milk is really the one which contains pus and mucous. They both asked for more almond milk. Andrew ultimately stated that…

“I like the almond milk because it’s lighter than cow’s milk, and I sometimes get nauseous from drinking too much cow’s milk.”

I decided to quit while I was ahead instead of ripping out the Daiya cheese shreds. However, I did ask them if they would ever consider switching to a vegan diet if it made them feel great after a test run. I also asked them if they would be embarrassed to be vegan. Evan replied:

“If I felt physically better, I would not be embarrassed. I would be proud, in a way, of doing something for a greater cause. But I just can’t imagine making such a drastic switch. If everyone did it, I would do it. It would be the right thing. If it’s just me, I’m not making that much of a difference.”

You gotta’ love Andrew’s reply to that statement…

“I don’t like that mentality.”

I suggested that they consider making small switches in their diets to, perhaps, “lean into it” instead of going full force at 100% . Evan responded…

“The new product has to be the same or better. If it was, I would do it because it would be doing something good for society and better for me personally.”

Although I was disappointed to learn from Evan and Andrew that they never noticed any vegan groups or movements on their college campuses (although such groups may exist), I was excited to learn from Evan that Vedge Restaurant in Philadelphia is extremely popular with the students at The University of Pennsylvania (even the non-vegans). In fact, Evan stated that he is eager to dine there because it has such a great reputation…

“In Philly, everyone goes to Vedge, even the non-vegans. The vegan label doesn’t affect me because enough people have told me it’s good. If something has a good enough reputation, that overrides the vegan label.”

Go Vedge!

I asked them if they would consider reading any books on veganism or seeing any movies, and they both said that they are more inclined to see movies because it “only takes 2 hours.” I suggested a few movies including Forks Over Knives, Earthlings, Food, Inc., Vegucated, and Blackfish, and they were both interested and open-minded.

They both saw and enjoyed Super Size Me, and Evan stated that he actually stopped eating fast food for a while because of its impact. Andrew said…

“The crazy part was when the guy got headaches and nauseous when he stopped eating the fast food. It was like a legitimate drug.”

I totally agree with Andrew!

At the end of our enlightening conversation, I promised to invite them over to dinner to sample some of my vegan cooking. I promised to win them over with some vegan versions of their favorite foods such as lasagna, sausage and peppers, and pasta bolognese. Andrew was quite interested in my vegan chocolate cake. I’ll definitely make a great soup such as a classic mushroom-barley.

If you have any suggestions on what foods I should prepare for Evan and Andrew during their next break from college, please comment in the section below.

In the meantime, I would like to thank Evan and Andrew for letting me post the highlights of our conversation, and for being so honest, thoughtful and open-minded. Thanks again, guys, and try to remember that…

“Vegan” Is Just A Word!


Click here to read my post Is Vegan A Dirty Word?

Click here to read about Gwyneth’s Interview With Kate & Richard of Philly’s Vedge Restaurant.

Click here to read my post Staying Vegan In College.

Click here to read my post Straight Edge Veganism: Syracuse, New York.











  1. I loved this, Debby! The boys were very honest and thoughtful! I agree that most people don not know what “vegan” means and with that ignorance comes a negative connotation. The word evokes so many different meanings to different people. When you use the word plant-based, that might have a more positive inference but, for me, it’s awkward to describe myself as plant-based—it sounds like I’ve grown roots and I’M growing out of the soil! I like “herbivore” but I think people would think that was weirder than vegan!

    • That’s very funny, Ellen…”plant-based sounds like I’ve grown roots and I’m growing out of the soil!” The boys were terrific, and I loved Evan’s suggestion that more products should be labelled “vegan” to take the sting out of the word.

  2. I love this post! I make sure that every student I teach gets to taste my homemade vegan chocolate chocolate chip cupcakes. So far, almost 1000 students of mine have been exposed to the word vegan and know what it means, and I made sure it was a positive introduction. It’s my little way of changing the world.

    • Thanks so much for the lovely comment, Shannon! Sounds like you’re doing an amazing job as a teacher, and I love your little “positive introduction” to veganism!

  3. Make them a yummy mac and cheese, and also a grilled cheese. Personally, I love goulash. Find out if they both like spicy or not, and decide which kind of paprika would make it more satisfying for them. Monk bowls are good, too. These are things that they could make. Also pancakes. Make them some yummy pancakes. Finally, you may have a great vegan chocolate cake, but give them the recipe for whacky cake. It is traditionally done as a chocolate cake, but can be done as a spice cake using ground cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove – I think you can find proportions on the net easily enough.

    • These are amazing suggestions, Melanie! I was actually thinking that a yummy vegan mac and cheese might wow them. What is a Monk Bowl? I never heard of that. Whacky cake. Yes! They are usually easy to make too, right? Thanks so much for these wonderful suggestions!

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