MARQUETTE- Up until a year and a half ago, Nathan Schultz was your typical young man in terms of diet.
"I was a total carnivore my entire life," the 22-year-old junior at Northern Michigan University said. "I was raised eating meat."
Then for a summer job, he became a live-in apprentice at the Dancing Crane Farm in Skandia, living, working and eating at the farm for five months. As owners David and Natasha Gill follow a vegan diet, Schultz did, too, during his time there. And he didn't stop.
In order to be more environmentally friendly and to improve his own health, Northern Michigan University junior Nathan Schultz switched to a vegan diet while working as an apprentice at a local farm. Here he peruses vegan cookbooks at the Peter White Public Library. (Journal photo by Johanna Boyle)
Nathan Schultz, 22, was an apprentice at the Dancing Crane Farm in Skandia, living, working and eating at the farm for five months. He started a vegan diet then and has continued eating that way. (Photo courtesy of Natasha Gill)
Vegans, like vegetarians, don't eat meat, but they also avoid animal products such as milk, cheese and eggs, something Schultz has continued after finishing his apprenticeship.
"The food they cook there is the best food I've ever eaten," he said. "I wasn't planning on being vegan, but once I was at the farm, I decided to challenge myself to do it for the summer. There's no reason to go back."
Although he made the switch to being vegan for environmental reasons - to avoid the harm done to the environment by large factory farms - Schultz said he soon found other benefits.
"Instead of the 'Freshman 15,' I gained about 30 (pounds) my freshman year," he said. "I dropped about 40 (after becoming a vegan).
"Being vegan made me more mindful about food and nutrition. I feel better. I have more energy."
While some might find it extreme to give up meat, dairy and eggs altogether, Schultz said he has found it easy to maintain a vegan diet, either living on campus or on his own.
"They're very accommodating, which is cool," he said of Northern's food services. "Now I do all my own cooking. You can make pretty much anything. You just have to tweak some things."
Whether it's grilling up portobello mushroom caps instead of burgers or having soy ice cream instead of the dairy version, Schultz said he doesn't feel like he's giving up much by being vegan.
"I couldn't give up Fritos. Thankfully they're vegan," he said, laughing.
For those wanting to switch to a more vegetarian or vegan diet, Schultz suggested trying transition foods like the soy ice cream so that you don't have to give up everything you like at once.
Although he's a political science major, journalism minor at NMU, Schultz said he wanted to continue farming after college.
"I got to wake up in the morning, feed the animals and just go all day," he said. "Eventually I'd like to have my own small-scale farm.
"It was a life-changing summer."
Being vegan at NMU might have been easy, but this semester Schultz will be living in Europe, studying in Prague, where vegetarianism is less popular than in the United States.
"I don't want to miss out on culture," he said. "I might fall off the wagon a bit and eat some cheese. It'll be a challenge."
Here in the United States, Schultz, originally from Grand Haven, said his family has been supportive of his diet.
"When I eat with my mom or my dad, they go out of their way to find vegan recipes for us," he said. "I think they're intrigued by it.
"I try not to be pushy. My sister's getting to the point where she might do it."
Schultz said people switch to the vegan lifestyle for three main reasons - environmental, animal rights or health - or some combination of the three.
"And you save on groceries," he said. "You're not buying milk and cheese. It saves a lot."
Johanna Boyle can be reached at 906-486-4401. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.