After a long day of studying for midterms, completing homework, and catching up on all seven seasons of Parks and Recreation, the typical Santa Clara University (SCU) student meanders over to the Benson cafeteria to obtain motivation in the dead of night through food. It is this food which keeps students focused on succeeding in the rigorous environment of college. However, it can also be a catalyst for weight gain and other health issues, which has led to the mythical legend of the “Freshman 15.” The variety of food at Benson is abundant, but only for omnivorous students. At least, it would appear that way on the surface.
Here at SCU, many omnivorous students are under the impression that a vegetarian diet is a boring and unnecessarily tedious one. The vegetarian options in Benson are difficult to find on the menu, and if they exist, their quantity in comparison to meals with meat is limited.
Schuyler Crilley, a current student at SCU states that “there are very few options for…people who are trying to become vegetarian.” Nutrition is also a concern when comparing meat-based and vegetarian diets. For athletes and health-conscious students concerned with getting enough protein, meat provides a lot more protein compared to most other foods. A meal with meat may have 46 grams of protein versus the 15-20 present in a vegetarian meal (Nutrition Facts Tables). (Lydia Davidson) If an athlete were to give up meat from their diet, what other foods could they eat to still get enough protein?
In addition to concerns for the welfare of athletic individuals, there are also health worries for the average person. In an extreme case, extensive studies done in Germany found that “vegetarianism [was] linked [to] higher rates of depression, anxiety, and particularly eating disorders” (Deans). This, in combination with other doubts regarding managing one’s health on a vegetarian diet, decreases the willingness of individuals to change to a vegetarian diet. Furthermore, this effect is compounded for college students, since it seems like most schools do not provide the variety of vegetarian food needed to convince people to change. Though they may not be aware of the studies that have linked vegetarianism to higher rates of some illnesses, this wariness of the unknown health effects is another part which contributes to a lack of enthusiasm to change.
The reality is, these assumptions often stem from a societal norm and habit based on food choices. Unlike most meat-based diets, a plant-based diet is cheap, time-efficient, more adventurous, and safer for one’s health, even in a college setting. This can be seen through the many college students who lead a vegetarian lifestyle with ease through researching and testing a variety of meals. Mali, a vegetarian at SCU, when asked about being a vegetarian, even made a point that “it’s really easy to be vegetarian on campus, but it could be a lot harder during breaks and after [graduation].” There also seems to be the common misconception that maintaining a vegetarian diet means only eating salad and tofu, when in actuality, there are many options available off and on campus if a student invests some time in looking for them.
Also, despite the studies mentioned earlier that link vegetarianism to depression and other health issues, a study done in Puerto Rico found that more “anxiety and depression were reported in the no vegetarian groups in comparison with the vegetarian groups,“ which illustrates that the data between types of diet and depression is not consistent. (Jiménez) The German studies mentioned earlier also have details within them which may mislead people. In the study, it was mentioned that the vegetarians questioned were 15% more likely to have depression; however, it was also mentioned that the depression was a pre-existing factor before the individual became a vegetarian (Messina). This kind of information can lead to misinformed assumptions about vegetarianism when interpreted in the wrong way. Though a college student considering vegetarianism may be more worried about getting enough protein compared to the conflicting studies regarding other aspects of health, it is important to address the reality that these hesitations based on health are also a key part in the maintaining of boring habits. We hope to address this in order to encourage college students to break out of their typical eating habits, and try something new.
Many college students lead a vegetarian lifestyle with ease, because of the time and research they put into accommodating a full day of meals. A common misconception that comes with vegetarianism is that as a college student, options are limited and restrictive. However, in reality, it is quite the opposite. Much of this flawed thinking is stemmed from firstly, the increased reliance students have on the pre-made nature of the dining hall, and secondly, the misbelief of what constitutes a balanced meal. In regards to the first issue against vegetarianism, dining halls, especially SCU’s, typically flaunt the “standard” (read: meat) option first, forcing readers to treat the vegetarian option as secondary or a downgrade.
However, the vegetarian options are not only just as nutritious and delicious, but they often run a few dollars cheaper than their meat counterpart. Furthermore, vegetarianism inspires creativity and innovation — often out of necessity to break away from the aforementioned pre-made meals, but also due to the desire to fulfill the need for variety in food. One could even argue that vegetarianism is a more adventurous way of eating: while omnivores have mystery meats to struggle with, vegetarians play around with flavor profiles and limited resources to create fresh, new, and experimental meals. It also encourages students to be more resourceful and well-rounded, as they cannot always rely on establishments to accommodate to their dietary preferences, so college students, with an already limited budget, learn important life skills, like how to grocery shop, cook, and work around a budget.
The most common argument against vegetarianism, however, is one that plays with the idea that vegetarianism restricts students, especially athletes, from getting all of the protein and nutrition they need. However, just like the idea that vegetarianism is restrictive, the idea that the appropriate amount of protein needed for athletes it is difficult to get is also a misconception. The average adult should consume 0.8 times their body weight in grams of protein, and that athletes or bodybuilders need to consume more, but nothing drastically more. Studies, in fact, have shown that the amount of protein used during exercise is not significantly different than when our bodies are at rest. Protein isn’t exclusive to just meat either. Many athletes already know they can substitute meat for alternatives like tofu and beans, but carbs and most vegetables, especially in bulk, are good ways to not just get protein, but vitamins and other nutrients often lost in a primarily meat-based diet.
Maintaining a vegetarian diet can be healthier for both athletic and non-athletic college students and Santa Clara University recognizes this. A study published by a Nutrition Journal concluded that subjects who maintained a newly vegetarian diet were likely to deal better with the stress, due to the absence of arachidonic acid, a fatty acid found in meat and other meat products commonly associated with depressive symptoms [Beezhold and Johnston]. As a college student, personal health is important. It can determine how well you focus, what decisions you make, and how you generally feel about yourself and the world around you. As stress is prevalent on a college campus such as our own, vegetarianism can be a stress-relieving, healthy solution, not just physically, but mentally for college students.
Contrary to what many students think, switching to a vegetarian diet has additional long-term health benefits and no detrimental effect on athletic performance. There have been many observed differences in health between meat and non-meat eaters. For example, a national survey regarding obesity and meat consumption indicated a significantly positive association between the two. When compared to a vegetarian diet with an equivalent level of nutrition, eating meat resulted in greater risk of obesity, even as physical activity was kept at a constant (Wang). Furthermore, vegetarian runners suffer no loss in speed or endurance compared to their meat-eating counterparts. (Nieman) In fact, a meat-free diet provides more vitamins and nutrients with less fat (Nieman). The fitness advantage one gains from cutting meat from one’s diet is unquestionable.
Santa Clara University conveniently and intentionally provides many healthy and tasty vegetarian options to its students, which includes its close to 400 student athletes and 4,500 plus students participating in intramurals, through the dining service, Cafe Bon Appetit (Santa Clara University Sports). For example, every special at its Bistro cafe has a vegetarian counterpart that includes a soy or plant-based product such as tofu or black beans. In fact, all of the stations have numerous vegetarian options or meals that you can supplement tofu or beans in lieu of where meat is normally served. These meals are generally the same with or without meat, so they still taste delicious and have a more healthy protein than the meat that would have been in them.
In a society where eating meat is accepted, and often encouraged, it comes as no surprise that an omnivorous diet is quite popular. While there are numerous healthy and economical options available without meat, being a vegetarian is not popular, nor believed to be nutritionally beneficial. College students act with a certain ambivalence toward vegetarians, either giving them a thumbs up or an “I don’t care” sort of attitude. This, combined with the simple habit of eating meat makes it difficult for students to realize that they are missing out by not taking advantage of what being a vegetarian has to offer. SCU students must take charge of their eating habits and realize how out of balance most omnivore diets can be. Keeping a balanced diet is key to living a long and healthy life. Yet despite the numerous benefits of being a vegetarian, SCU students do not seem to want to make the switch. The ball is in your court, Broncos, turn this key we have just presented, to unlock the door to a healthier you.
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