Going Vegetarian: How and why to adopt a meat-free diet in college

Words by Haley Baker

Photo courtesy of MCT Campus.

As it sat in front of me, I thought it might be a bad idea. And by “it” I mean a plate of 60 barbeque chicken wings from Arthur Bryant’s BBQ restaurant in Kansas City. Next to me sat a 6-foot 5-inch, 300-pound bearded man named Kyle, facing an identical mountain of meat. All of my friends surrounded the table, cheering me on. The referee recites the rules: “All meat must be off the bone. You will be allowed one glass of water. Whoever finishes first, wins. Go!”

I’m not one to boast, but I won. I ate the entire plate faster than my much larger, burly opponent. However, I should have trusted my instincts when the little angel on my shoulder told me not to do it. After the contest, I had never felt sicker in my life, and that includes the time I had food poisoning from bad sushi. After being ill from meat for a few months, I went to the doctor. He said my body could no longer digest meat correctly. This is how I became a vegetarian.

5 myths about vegetarianism:

1. You don’t get enough protein or nutrients. The average American actually eats too much protein. The average person only needs about 48 grams of protein per day, and most people double that. A vegetarian diet can actually increase the amount of nutrients you are getting by eating more fruits and vegetables.

2. You have to eat “fake” meat if you’re not eating the real thing. There were vegetarians roaming the earth long before the invention of the hamburger. You don’t have to eat fake meat to feel satisfied. Mother Nature knows exactly what you need.

3. It’s a repetitive diet. You would be surprised the variety of foods you will find. There are a lot of interesting and delicious meals in this world. Your taste buds will thank you.

4. You never feel full. Plant-based foods are high in fiber which keeps you full, and beans and nuts are full of protein to hold you over to the next meal.

5. All vegetarians are animal activists. Not all vegetarians are picketing slaughterhouses and protesting against growth hormones at dairy farms. The most popular reason for a vegetarian diet is to improve overall health. Cutting out meat can reduce risk for high cholesterol, heart disease and even certain types of cancer. (Source: Mayo Clinic)

After two and a half years of my herbivore diet, I have lost more than 25 pounds, putting me at healthier weight. My severe asthma has become moderate, and I feel lighter and more energized. I’m not alone. According to the Vegetarian Resource Group, students all over the country have embarked upon the challenge of an animal-free diet, with a 10 percent increase in vegetarianism in the past decade. This means colleges and universities are under pressure to provide food options to students who decide to become vegetarians and vegans.

Junior Tori Schaeffer also adopted a new diet for health reasons. A few years ago, Schaeffer suffered from chronic stomach pain caused by a meat allergy, something that is quite common, her doctor told her. Since this diagnosis four years ago, she hasn’t eaten red meat.

“I went to Akron [University] my freshman year, and it was not vegetarian friendly at all,” Scheaffer says. “I think Kent is a little bit better than most. I think vegetarians can get away with eating on campus the way it is now.”

The Nutritional Outreach Program (NOP) on campus, which offers services to students with dietary restrictions or sensitivities, hopes to partner with dining services and start promoting healthy, on-campus dining options in the future.

“Students also tend to go for what they know they like, like pizza and macaroni and cheese and pasta,” NOP Coordinator Tanya Falcone says. “I really think it’s a matter of promoting the options, even if it’s just putting up a sign that says ‘vegetarian options.’ We would love to do cooking classes and eventually have tours on campus and bring students to different locations on campus to show them what is on campus.”

Simply because french fries are vegetarian does not mean they are healthy. Falcone says sometimes students who decide to become vegetarians actually gain weight because they eat fried foods or meals loaded with fat and carbs like fries, onion rings, pasta, cheese and potatoes. Sophomore Kay-lee Cangelosi thinks the campus could do better at providing vegetarian options that are also healthy.

“I think on campus it’s hard to find things that are vegetarian and healthy all around the board,” Cangelosi says. “They should include healthier options that accommodate all types of people that have dietary restrictions.”

The journey into vegetarianism is not as easy as it looks, especially while in college. With all of the fried, greasy, delicious dishes available on campus, keeping a healthy and balanced diet is a struggle with or without meat. However, Falcone says with the right education, which the NOP offers, a vegetarian diet is a good option for certain people.

“I think it’s a very healthy diet, but it’s a matter of keeping it balanced,” Falcone says. “I feel like it is especially good for those who are at risk for heart disease, or high cholesterol.”

So you want to be a vegetarian, but you think the diet would be too hard to maintain while in college? The good news: It is possible. I speak from experience. And whether you decide to become a veg head in the name of your health, animal welfare, or because you ate too many chicken wings in one sitting, Kent State offers plenty of options. 

Most vegetarian-friendly dining locations on campus:

1. Prentice Café and Munchies MarketWith fresh fruit, veggie burgers, vegan burritos, and a new vegetarian food option served every day, a vegetarian or vegan will enjoy the plethora of options available here. Munchies also offers several frozen dinner options from Amy’s, a frozen foods brand that is vegan and gluten-free.

2. Eastway Café and Market Eastway also offers new vegetarian options in the café every day, along with a salad bar and plenty of frozen veggie meals in the market. What makes Eastway less vegetarian-friendly than Prentice is the repetition of meals. Put simply, the effort is there; the creativity is not.

3. Shake, Wrap and Roll This location offers salads, wraps and vegetable sushi and is one of the only locations that offers tofu.

4. Kent Markets Both Kent Markets have options for the on-the-go vegetarian. Kent Market 1 offers a different vegetarian hot meal every day, a black bean burger and veggie quesadilla on their standard menu, and a variety of wraps and salads from the cooler. They also offer bagged lunches that are “Simply Vegan,” for those who have to eat on the way to the next class. Kent Market 2’s options are available for the vegetarian whose lunch break happens to be between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. It includes Olives pasta bar, Fresh Inspirations salad bar, Tandoori oven which offers an ethnic vegetarian entrée, and Boar’s Head Deli with several vegetarian sandwich and wrap options.

5. Subway Most are familiar with the Veggie Delite sandwich from Subway, but there is more to eat here. Ask about a pizza sub with no pepperoni, or a salad full of veggies. Subway is all about making food your way, so they will happily cater to your dietary needs.

So you want to be a vegetarian?

Being a vegetarian student can be difficult at first if you don’t know what you are doing. Here are some tips from a long-term vegetarian who has been there:

1. Explore

In order to have a healthy, balanced diet as a vegetarian, you need to do your homework and be willing to try new things. Ever heard of quinoa? It’s packed with protein, it’s a grain and it’s good with almost anything. Quinoa is one of many foods that can replace the protein that you are cutting out. Just search for “vegetarian proteins” on Google.

2. Just ask

So you go out to eat a lot. Most restaurants have at least a couple vegetarian options on their menu. And for those that don’t have one explicitly written on their menu, you would be surprised how many restaurants will accommodate customers with dietary restrictions. Just ask for the meat to be taken out or to replace it with something else. Most burger joints have black bean patties and Taco Bell will be happy to replace the meat in your taco with beans.

3. Get your friends on board

Being the only vegetarian in a group of meat eaters can be a struggle, but with friends on board the veggie bandwagon, you have a support system behind you. Even if they don’t want to go full vegetarian, you can still introduce them to foods and places around town that are vegetarian friendly. They may really enjoy it. I took my friends to Laroush in downtown and it is now our favorite place to get lunch. By introducing them to new cuisine and restaurants that are also vegetarian, it makes going out to eat with friends much easier.

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