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Meet our Herbie of the Week, Elondra Ome! Elondra is a great example of one of my favorite mantras: Progress, not perfection. Elondra Ome has also made it her mission to bring healthier eating options on her college campus (and she's made huge strides!) Be inspired by Elonda Ome: she's working every day to become happier and healthier and more plant-based.
"Me sorting through the mesquite pods I harvested, while throwing the 'bad' pods into composting as part of my volunteer work for the Office of Sustainability at my university as the Sustainable Food Production Intern."
HH: What made you adopt a plant-based (vegan) diet?
My parents became vegan about two years ago and I immediately saw a major change of their health, attitude, and weight. Many people in my family are obese and suffer many health issues, which has always frightened me, because I don’t want to have the same issues.
My Mom and Dad convinced me to watch Forks Over Knives in September 2011 and I instantly went for a change in my diet. Ever since then, I have constantly been switching between being vegan and being vegetarian. The longest I was able to withhold a plant-based (vegan) diet was for 5 months straight. Other than that, I stuck with vegetarianism. I am still aiming towards becoming 100% vegan for the rest of my life.
"Me at an Earth Day Event in Tucson (where I live). I was with other students in my sustainability club representing the Food Committee. "
HH: Is it difficult to maintain a plant-based diet while at college?
I am not holding ANY hesitation when I say that being on a vegan diet is very difficult for me. Even though it makes me feel so much better in SO many ways, it is still a constant challenge when being a student. There are always friends, teachers, co-workers, and companies that have so many bribes and temptations that I try to avoid. This involves things like potlucks and other parties, fast and cheap food, invitations to home-cooked dinners, college events, a delicious pastry before class, dorm events with lots of pizza and other FREE food… the list goes on and on. The hardest part is the free food.
I have to tell myself EVERY day that my health is worth it. I’m not perfect with my diet, but I have learned how to eliminate the common unhealthy food choices that many college students make.
[Editorial note: In August we had several plant-based/vegan coeds guest post on Happy Herbivore sharing their experiences and tips. Read parts 1, 2 and 3 for a deeper look at plant-based college life.]
HH: How do you overcome these challenges?
An example would be that everything in my kitchen is vegan. This forces me to cook with vegan friendly foods all the time. A step such as this has already made a huge change in my diet. Now, if I ever have an urge to eat something unhealthy and non-plant-based, it forces me to spend money that I don’t really have. In other words, it forces me to think about if the unhealthy choice is worth it for me.
HH: What other steps have you taken to making a plant-based diet easier on campus?
While on the journey of being vegan when I lived on campus, I also discovered that being vegan on a university’s meal plan is not so simple. I started thinking of any possible ways I can convince the Student Union to provide more vegan options on campus. Along with some help from other “foodie” friends, we ended up getting a couple of other students together and created a club called the Food Committee. The Food Committee still exists today and continues to make small changes on campus and educate students about sustainable diets.
"Me and the other co-founder of the Food Committee presenting our project to the Sustainability Club on campus."
HH: Wow! Incredible! Talk about taking an initiative! What's going on with the Food Committee now?
The Food Committee is still in the process of making a change within my university’s food options. The group continues to get many campus employees by their side to help the Food Committee get to this goal. I eventually decided to step down as chair from the Food Committee. Trying to persuade the campus into changing their menus was a lot harder than I had thought, but it opened up many other opportunities for me.
HH: What kind of opportunities?
I ended up working for the Office of Sustainability at my university as the Sustainable Food Production Intern. I organized a group of volunteers to help me harvest mesquite trees over the summer and collect the mesquite pods. Mesquite pods can be milled down into very sweet, gluten-free pastry flour! You can use it to cook just about anything from cookies, pancakes, and other things you can’t even imagine! After collecting about 100 gallons of pods during the summer, I went to a local harvesting group that holds events for mesquite pod millings. After having all of the pods milled into flour, I gave it to the university’s kitchen staff. They used the flour to cook vegan and gluten-free pastries for purchase on campus!
HH: That's awesome! It must be so rewarding to be part of an initiative like that. What did you enjoy most about the experience?
After a long summer’s work with mesquite trees, I was in the dining center during the first couple weeks of school and went into the coffee shop. While looking at the pastries, I saw the mesquite brownies that I had helped produce, and it was one of the most incredible feelings.
I also went and presented this project at a conference called AASHE (Associations for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education). I discovered that there are so many more students that are trying to make a change on their campus as well! It makes me happy that there are so many students out there that really run with their ideas and help make a change everyday. Going to that conference made me realize that EVERY student has the power to make a difference; all they need is passion.
UPDATE (October 2013):
The mesquite-harvesting on my campus is now apart of a project called LEAF (Linking Edible Arizona Forests), which is through the University of Arizona Campus Arboretum. As of October 2013, I will serve as a student intern to help continue this project throughout the campus and local communities. I have decided to use my research and work for this project as a part of my Senior Capstone for the Sustainable Built Environments degree.
HH: Oh my goodness! Congrats!!!! WOW! WTG!
"Me harvesting a mesquite tree on campus."
HH: You've mentioned you're working your way towards a 100% plant-based diet. Can you tell us a little bit more about that?
Currently, I am vegetarian. I work towards becoming vegan every single day. Like I said before, I am not perfect. I am just another poor college student that frequently struggles with life’s challenges. Being vegan is another additional challenge for me, but it is a challenge that I am willing to accept. It has changed so many people’s way of living.
There are too many benefits to list on why anybody should accept a plant-based diet. People who are trying to develop this new lifestyle, like me, definitely need support. The Happy Herbivore website is one out of many that offers support, and I encourage everyone to talk about their challenges together, because it definitely helps with the struggles.
My mom is the person I like to talk to when I struggle with being vegan. I feel like all I need to do is look at her in order to be encouraged to develop a plant-based diet. She has such healthy skin and hair, as well as no longer being obese. Her energy is better than the average energy of somebody my age (early 20s)! Isn’t that saying something? The Happy Herbivore Cookbook has definitely been one of my favorite cookbooks to cook out of with my mom whenever I come back home from college!
"Me holding some of the mesquite pods I collected."
HH: You mentioned your parents follow a plant-based diet, but what about your friends? Does being vegan (or vegetarian) make the social aspect of college more difficult?
I do have a few close friends that have supported me, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they understand why I’m doing it. “Ignorance is bliss” is one of the many reactions that I have gotten from people around me. The only people that have given me grief on this diet are the ones who have not taken the time to educate themselves about it. I always try to encourage these types of people to do their research, but like my Dad always says, “You can only lead a horse to water.”
HH: Have you experienced any positive benefits like your Mom?
I have felt so much healthier; my focus is better, my energy levels are so much better, I don’t feel a constant bloat (that I didn’t even notice I had). When eating plant-based foods, my immune system is at its best, my digestive system is amazingly healthy, and to put the cherry on top, the weight loss boosts my confidence!Thanks for sharing, Elondra Ome! Keep up the amazing work!