By Lori Stultz, VO Traveling Outreach Coordinator
A few weeks ago, Holly and I leafleted at Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU) in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, and we were joined by student volunteer and National Guard service member Jasper Ohde. In the days leading up to our leafleting event, I had been in contact with Jasper. However, it wasn’t until we spent time leafleting together and talking about our respective vegan journeys that I discovered he is in the service.
I was really surprised–Jasper is the first vegan service member I have met. Vegan and in the military? That’s not something you hear about every day. He was so open about his lifestyle choices in a community where veganism is definitely not the “norm,” and I wanted to make sure his story was heard far and wide, to inspire others who may be in a similar situation.
Tell us your name, age, and major.
Jasper Ohde, 25, Media & Entertainment
What was it that inspired you to go vegan?
Initially, I was turned onto veganism by all the beautiful photos of fruits I would see on Instagram! Then I started reading about the health benefits of a plant-based diet, and I started educating myself about all the benefits to the planet, to my body, and most importantly, to the animals. I finally made the connection.
Have you been met with a lot of resistance from other men and women in your unit?
Most of them just say, “I don’t see how you can do that,” or “It’s not for me.” I have had two people think about it enough to try it. One made the switch completely!
When you’re met with resistance, how do you respond?
I am usually just asked questions. If things are awkward after explaining, I keep things light with a joke. My favorite lately is, “You guys know what vegan means, right? Bad Hunter.” They usually lighten up after they realize I’m still human.
Since there is not currently a vegan MRE (meal, ready-to-eat), what do you eat when you’re out in the field or on training missions?
Usually MREs aren’t our only option. We can bring our own food to a lot of field training, so I do that if possible or find a place where I can eat vegan food. If they serve non-vegan food, there is usually something I can have, like fruits, salad, or peanut butter and bread. And I can always swap with my brothers for more if I need to. They like getting traded a meat item for their greens or fruits, so it works out. I’ve never been in this situation before but if MREs are the only option, they do make vegetarian ones and hypothetically I would have to eat the vegetarian one, or just the items that are vegan within it (crackers, applesauce, raisins, nuts, etc.) to have energy for training.
As a vegan in the military, what other barriers have you come across?
The only real barrier I face is the food. I’m not complaining here–I understand the military has its priorities and eating “healthy” and “fresh” is probably not at the top of their list. That being understood, personally it just sucks not being able to get to some fresh greens and rice or hummus and other certain foods I love so much when I’m at home. This is a barrier for everyone, not simply vegans. When you’re in the woods, or desert, or mountains, you eat what you can. Makes the food that much better when you get home, right?
How do you think vegans in the service can go about raising awareness among other service members, especially college students who are in the National Guard and Army Reserve?
I’m a media scholar, so I am aware there are a lot of ways to raise awareness. My favorite method, where I think change really is made, is by simply being around others close to you and demonstrating that it’s not hard to be vegan. Be the shining example. “Be the change you wish to see in the world,” as Gandhi put it. That’s where I have had the most success.
Have you noticed a difference in your performance since going vegan?
I have noticed my recovery time is a lot faster.
What are you favorite vegan meals and snacks to keep you fueled?
Homemade vegan sushi! Also banana smoothies.
If you could offer one piece of advice to someone who is thinking about going vegan, what would it be?
I would tell them to enjoy it, buddy, because it is the best feeling in the world knowing you are helping the animals, and improving your own health and the health of the environment.
Thank you, Jasper, for sharing a little about yourself and your experience of being a vegan service member! You are a great representation of the growing community of people who choose to live in line with their values while also remaining healthy and strong. Best of luck to you in your future!