It may seem like everyone is spending a daily meal swipe at the Chick-Fil-A, but more students than ever before are following plant-based diets. Plant-based doesn’t necessarily mean that someone is vegan or vegetarian, but that plants are the focal part of their diet. According to a survey by College Pulse, 14% of college students are plant-based. This is almost four times the percentage of plant-based adults.
While the South is known for its expertise in the art of fried chicken—sparking a never-ending Zaxby vs. Bojangle debate— our plant-based students here at University of South Carolina must be eating somewhere. I talked to five local students to understand more of what inspires the plant-based trend and to get the low-down on the best plant-based eats in Columbia. Here are their five recommendations:
Good Life Cafe
Good Life Cafe is a plant-based favorite of freshman Sophie Lyczek. While she is not strictly vegan or vegetarian, she, like many other students, gravitates towards the veggie options when they’re available.
It’s hard to blame students for having difficulty following a plant-based diet when they're on the meal plan, especially for those trying to be completely vegan. About the plant-based diet, she states, “I do it occasionally when I can and the food sounds yummy. I’m not 100% committed to it just because the meal plan makes it difficult.” Stepping outside campus can make the plant-based lifestyle much easier. Lyczek recommends the avocado toast and hash browns at Good Life Cafe.
Located on Main Street Columbia, Good Life Cafe offers a 100% vegan menu, with dine-in and take-out options. You can choose from breakfast, dessert, coffee, grab and go selections, smoothies and a variety of entrees including stuffed portobello mushroom. The artsy interior and single seat options makeGood Life a great place to study or take yourself on a date.
The Devine Cinnamon Roll Deli
While it’s not an all-vegan establishment, junior Ellaby Rohde loves Cinnamon Roll Deli for a quick vegetarian fix. Rohde has been a pescatarian since middle school and says “eating meat honestly grossed me out. I continued in college because I feel like it’s a good way to keep conscious of what you’re eating and a lot of plant-based foods are healthier.” She's a fan of Cinnamon Roll Deli’s veggie sandwich and pita chips.
Cinnamon Roll Deli, not surprisingly, specializes in cinnamon rolls. Luckily, most deserts are vegetarian and present no problem for those who don’t eat meat. While the deli does not offer vegan cinnamon rolls, they have a variety of vegetarian sandwiches (you can build your own), along with bagels, grilled cheese and more.
A Peace of Soul Vegan Kitchen
This restaurant is the favorite of vegetarian junior Lillian Ballantyne. “Originally I went plant-based because in my ethics class I did a presentation about how environmentally damaging our agriculture practices can be," Ballantyne said. She began to learn more about the positive changes people can make: "A few of the recommendations to being more sustainable was to go meat-free, so I decided it was time for me to cut out meat. From there I got more invested and involved in the plant-based community and started cutting out other animal-based products, mostly because of animal cruelty," she adds.
The all-vegan Black-owned business, A Peace of Soul Vegan Kitchen, is perfect for plant-based people craving a little more variety in their diet. While many vegan restaurants are known for salads and smoothie bowls, Peace of Soul features a rotating menu of craveable eats like mac and cheese and bacon cheeseburgers, as well as the classic, healthier options. Lillian recommends the “chicken” sandwich.
The Corner Blend
While junior Kara Gilmore is not plant-based, she recognizes it's "important to get plenty of fruits and vegetables in your diet.” When she needs a health fix, she chooses the sweet berry bliss bowl at The Corner Blend.
The Corner Blend is on-campus and conveniently accepts Carolina Cash. Their delicious menu is quite healthy and features a variety of acai bowls, smoothies and bubble teas perfect for fruit lovers. This restaurant is vegetarian, but most items can be made vegan by substituting certain ingredients (Nutella for coconut, for example).
Tasty as Fit
Tasty as Fit is junior Caroline Spurrier's plant-based go-to. Spurrier went plant-based a year ago due to some alarming stomach issues. "I realized how much nutrition and what you put into your body can change how you feel," she says. Spurrier went on to work at Tasty As Fit with her new found passion for nutrition.
Tasty as Fit offers a delicious grab and go section, a range of entrees, desserts, and smoothies in various flavors like mint chocolate chip. According to Spurrier, it's the best plant-based location in Columbia, "everything there is amazing," she proclaims.
While committing to the plant-based lifestyle is no small feat in Columbia, there are many great options that deserve your support. Even swapping for dairy-free milk at your closest Starbucks can be a good start. Other local options are great choices as well. If more people started to choose plant-based options both on and off campus, businesses would be incentivized to make more of them, and the diet would become more accessible to everyone. According to Climate Nexus, animal agriculture is the second biggest cause of human greenhouse gas emissions and a leading contributor to deforestation and pollution. Starting to make small changes can have a big effect.