Vegetarians Face Diet Dilemmas

by Alex Cheser

I admire vegetarians. I really do. Regardless if their reasoning is ethical, health-conscious or a mixture of both, vegetarians have a commitment that I can’t match. I’m too invested into food culture to not try a restaurant’s specialty burger, a Kentucky hot brown done well or a new Friday night chicken dinner recipe. A lot of people give steak as their reason to not be vegetarian. I could do without red meat, but not poultry or fish … or bacon. OK, well, you get the idea. I asked around and being vegetarian on this campus presents a daily challenge for a lot of people but it’s well worth it for them.

Vegetarianism has been heavily debated as to how healthy it really is, but if done correctly it’s a very smart life choice. Yes, we are omnivores, but our bodies and physiologically are evolutionarily designed for a mostly plant-based diet with random bits of animal protein when available. As long as vegetarians are knowledgeable of their protein and amino acid sources, I don’t see why skipping meat is all that bad.

The scientific evidence is still controversial, but it’s generally accepted that vegetarians have a slightly longer life expectancy (and sometimes even get lower insurance rates for it) and have lower rates of commonly Western ailments like heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

Vegetarians who also don’t consume dairy or those who go as far as veganism have to be even more conscious of their nutrient intake, though. The argument is generally that after infancy our bodies are not intended for regular intake of milk fat and lactose.

Most of the world’s population still develops lactose intolerance after infancy, but those of us with Northern European ancestry maintain our production of lactase to digest milk products because the cattle domestication there was done safely and successfully and was important for survival.

Some people perform very well on a vegan diet, particularly in terms of body fat, but whether it is better or not health-wise than vegetarianism is yet to be determined.
No matter the diet choice, though, trying to be veggie on this campus is not easy. The cafeteria is probably the safest place for vegetarians, but eating there all the time gets really old regardless of your dietary restrictions.

“The “classics” line always has the same vegetables prepared the same way,” said sophomore Laura Campbell. “The variety, for taste, let alone health, is greatly lacking. Often, too, a dish will look safe, but after I get it, I look more closely and find bacon or something chopped up in it. The ‘vegetarian’ options are often unappealing.”

Most people that I interviewed agreed that the caf has gotten a lot better with its fresh-food options, but it’s still not perfect. Plus, the food in the caf is not always labeled as vegetarian or not. However, you can look ahead at the menu and vegetarian options on the Transylvania dining website ( if it’s regularly updated.

“I appreciate the cooks’ work and they often make multiple dishes for me or alter some for me, but options are still lacking in variety and quality,” said first-year Browning Smith.

Senior Ashley Stafford chose to get off the meal plan this year because she was tired of eating the same vegetables or sandwich every day, but senior Crystal Walker, who was off the meal plan last year, chose to get back on it because of the convenience.

Other eateries on campus have mixed reviews. Most people agree that the Rafskeller has been a huge improvement and appreciate the consistency in food preparation.

“You can consistently get a vegetarian sandwich at the Raf, but Jazzman’s is hit and miss, and the ’80 doesn’t have anything healthy,” said first-year Zoe Snider.

Whether or not you endorse vegetarianism, you have to appreciate the commitment vegetarians have. While I will probably never be a vegetarian, I’m all for eating meat less and investing more in fruits and vegetables. You can take inspiration from Mediterranean or Asian diets if you’re looking for an alternative. In the end, it’s all about being conscious of what you eat and how your diet affects you.


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