by Joseph Kulesza ’22
Among the various other trends, including but not limited to cuffing your jeans, owning an air fryer, and drinking cold brew coffee, there has emerged yet another trend that has garnered the attention of many college students: veganism.
The rise of veganism (also referred to as a plant-based diet) can be seen even in Providence College’s local community. A vegan food court known as Plant City opened up during the summer of 2019 on South Water Street in Providence, and has grown in popularity ever since.
This new and trendy food court is home to four separate vegan food vendors, where one has the option of buying an $8 can of kombucha, an $18 burrito, or a bottle of cashew milk for only $5.95, all of which are free of animal products.
And why would you not want to spend your money on these products? Celebrities such as Beyoncé, Jay-Z, and Miley Cyrus have all announced their conversion to this new way of thinking about food.
Satire aside, there are many benefits associated with this diet. The conventional foods that Americans are so accustomed to eating—beef, eggs, and milk to name a few—have been scientifically proven to have potential negative health effects.
Research from Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health concluded that an “accumulated body of evidence shows a clear link between high intake of red and processed meats and a higher risk for heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and premature death.”
This same study went as far as to say that “you don’t need to eat red meat to get these essential nutrients. You can get the same amounts—and in some cases even more…by following a plant-based diet.”
With the health benefits of this diet reasonably understood by the scientific community, the task now becomes defining what exactly is deemed worthy of being part of a plant-based or vegan diet.
Defining what is and is not part of a vegan or plant-based diet is more difficult than one might imagine, as foods such as Oreos, Swedish Fish, and Pringles are all technically vegan foods, containing no animal products, yet, they are unanimously regarded as unhealthy.
It is junk foods’ very ability to label itself as vegan that is deceiving to many consumers who are eager to live a healthier lifestyle.
While it is common knowledge that Oreos and potato chips contain high amounts of sodium and sugar, and by extension are not a part of any healthy diet, there are many brands that produce products similar to these household names that are seen as healthy alternatives as a result of their deceitful marketing.
Brands such as Hippeas and Nature’s Bakery advertise themselves as being vegan, yet, they are only marginally healthier than their junk food counterparts. Take, for example, the increasingly popular brand Hippeas, which makes organic chickpea-based snacks: A one ounce serving contains 130 calories, 140 milligrams of sodium, and five grams of fat.
These nutrition facts might seem impressive, but when compared to a one ounce serving of nacho cheese flavored Doritos which contain: 140 calories, 210 milligrams of sodium, and eight grams of fat, it can be said that the Hippeas are only marginally healthier.
In most cases relating to vegan snacks, the phrase “healthier” is better understood as less unhealthy.
Conventional wisdom holds that foods such as whole grains, vegetables, and fruit constitute a healthy diet, as they contain phytochemicals, antioxidants, and nutrients that our bodies need for proper function.
In life, most things that are too good to be true likely are, and this new trend in vegan snacks is no exception to this expression.