Thursday, February 3, 2011

My partially vegetarian school

I know I said this would be about recipes and foods, but recently I started to think about my home away from home: the University of South Florida. When I get hungry on campus, I try to think of what I'm going to eat. Eat at Sbarro? Eat at Burger King? Eat at a dining hall? Eat at Subway, where I will purchase a footlong with cheese and enough lettuce to feed a fleet of manatees (seriously--lay off of it Subway!)? Where can I find some healthy options around here?

Recently USF has become much more vegetarian friendly, and even offers tofu dishes on campus. My school has also become apart of the Meatless Monday campaign, which asks students to make a healthy, vegetarian food choice on Monday and push to keep up that habit through the week. Heck, even Oprah's doing it. Think of her new car voice: "We're all getting TOFUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU!" Obviously you're pumped right now, so let me lay some history down on you.

Since 2009, USF student groups like Students Protecting the Environment and Animals with Knowledge (SPEAK) have worked to make USF a more vegetarian and vegan friendly school. Now that the vegetarian movement has gained popularity, many are questioning how it will affect the health of students. Some people believe that being a vegan or vegetarian is not a healthy choice. Scientific studies have disproved this theory—but more on that later.

In 2009 SPEAK was founded. Those students worked with peta2, a version of peta targeted at teens, and USF Dining to increase the vegetarian choices in campus dining halls. Since that partnership, USF placed fifth in a peta2 national college challenge, enacted Meatless Mondays in the dining halls this semester, and announced the July 2011 opening of a predominantly vegetarian dining hall to give student athletes--as well as any other students who go there--healthier options. Still, many students and faculty assume that being a vegetarian means that you're not totally healthy. These people demonstrate that vegetarianism is still one of society's great mysteries.

According to an April 2010 health study by Loma Linda University in California and the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, “vegetarians and semi vegetarians had significantly lower levels of fasting blood glucose, total cholesterol, waist circumference and (body mass index) when compared to non-vegetarians.”

Vegetarians are also less likely to have coronary artery disease, a stroke, adult-onset diabetes and obesity according to the study.

Jenna Burns, marketing manager for USF Dining Services, acknowledged the benefits of eating less meat.

“From a sustainability perspective, producing meat requires more water usage and animal agriculture is the largest source of CO2 emissions in the US. Consuming less meat also results in less consumption of saturated fat and cholesterol. By implementing Meatless Mondays, it’s both more environmentally friendly and healthier for students.”

Now it's all good and well that Burns knows that, but what about a real vegetarian? Sean Goss, a senior majoring in environmental science and policy, said that he’s already noticed the positive side-effects of a vegetarian diet.

“Becoming a vegetarian helped me eat healthier,” Goss said. “I mean, I could drink beer, eat French fries and cake and still be a vegetarian, but I decided to go through with an entire lifestyle change. I’ve already lost a few pounds.”

The only problem with USF’s vegetarian streak? Some students are more concerned about whether or not regular foods will be available. Students who would rather not eat their veggies shouldn’t worry according to Burns.

“It does not affect meat-eaters on campus,” she said, “(USF Dining) will still provide meat options.”

Briana Myers, a sophomore pre-med student, said that diners should be educated before they eat. 

“Students shouldn’t feel pressured to buy vegetarian meals just because there’s a discount,” Myers said. “It’s a popular movement, but students need to know how to get the necessary nutrition first.”

Although it’s a personal choice to go vegetarian, the results don’t lie. Vegetarians experience less fat around their waistlines and are at lower risk for type-2 diabetes. Also, you’re saving some nice animals in the process, not to mention the environment, so what’s the problem? Why not try being a vegetarian?

I can't make the decision for you, but if you're on campus and feel like trying some good food that won't leave you bloated, incapable of moving or sending death threats to the fast food giant of your choosing, give peas (or whatever other vegetables are involved) a chance. I'm so proud to say I go to a school that understands my dietary needs and looks out for the well-being of its student body. It's crazy to think that USF went from advertising a side of boiled vegetables as a vegan's main dish to an entire menu of options for vegans and vegetarians. Kudos, school!

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