I’m going to be honest with you. I’ve attempted to become a vegetarian about a dozen times, and each time I’ve failed miserably. My sister, who has been a vegetarian for about eight years, has been hinting at me for a while now to make the switch, sometimes subtly and other times a little less so: “It’s just gross to me that you’re eating an actual carcass.”
Regardless of her good intentions, I always seem to have a laundry list of excuses to justify my belief that the grass cannot possibly be greener on the other side if that other side doesn’t have delicious cows grazing on it. But lately, my beloved list of excuses doesn’t seem to be holding much of an argument.
In response to my sister’s subtle prodding, I usually shrug my shoulders and say, “Fake meat won’t taste like the real thing, so I seriously doubt I’ll like it.” Quite frankly, this is one of the biggest misconceptions about vegetarian meals. Of course you’ll come across food you don’t like. But to generalize all meatless items as bland and tasteless is absurd.
Depending on the brand, you can find food that smells, tastes and even looks like real meat products. I know this for a fact because the smell of my sister’s faux chicken strips frying on the stove can drag me out of bed. Even the crispiness of the chicken usually prompts me to snatch a piece or two when she’s not looking and shamelessly, yet conspicuously, stuff them in my own sandwich.
Coming from a relatively picky eater, I sincerely suggest taking a bite before judging. You might just be surprised. Now onto one of the bigger questions: “If I eliminate meat from my diet, what else am I going to eat?” To be honest, such reasoning would have been plausible about a decade ago when finding quality meat-free products was a genuine challenge. But today? There’s no excuse.
Throughout the past 10 to 15 years, increased awareness of the dark realities of factory farming, in addition to the immense pressure put forth by health officials to address our nation’s ominous obesity epidemic, has contributed to a considerable surge in the vegetarian food market. Forget scouring the Internet for a specialty store near you. At your local Vons, for example, expect to find a wide variety of vegetarian food options, from faux chicken nuggets to faux ground beef (which is delicious in spaghetti).
But if the selection at your local grocery stores isn’t particularly impressive, I have good news for you, my fellow Aztecs. Peta2, the youth division of the infamous People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals organization, has plans for San Diego State: create more vegetarian and vegan dining options for students. In fact, you might have seen one of the representatives collecting signatures for a petition to do just that. The goal was to collect 2,000 signatures before handing the petition to the director of SDSU Dining Services, Paul Melchior. “A measly petition,” I hear you scoff. Skeptical, are we?
Just last month, a similar approach was taken at the University of California San Diego, where peta2 successfully collected 3,000 signatures in support of creating additional vegetarian and vegan-friendly food options on campus. The outcome? UCSD wasted no time in unveiling Roots, “the university’s first exclusively vegetarian / vegan eatery and lounge.” But it’s not the only one. Michigan State, The University of North Texas, Duke University and Oklahoma City University are just several of the colleges that have complied with student demands for more vegetarian and vegan dining options, according to an article by USA Today.
Believe it or not, around 20 percent of U.S. college students are vegetarians, according to a study by the National Restaurant Association and the National Association of College and University Food Services. However, if you’re indifferent to the 9 billion animals slaughtered each year in the U.S. for food, then consider making the switch for your own health.
“Many studies have shown that vegetarians seem to have a lower risk of obesity, coronary heart disease (which causes heart attack), high blood pressure, diabetes mellitus and some forms of cancer,” according to the American Heart Association. Such diets are “also usually lower than nonvegetarian diets in total fat, saturated fat and cholesterol.” Everyone has sudden realizations when they stop and think, “I think it’s time for something different.” So why not make this your new lifestyle change? You have to start somewhere, so start today.
Sidenote: It’s important to note that a vegetarian diet, while beneficial in many ways, is one that requires monitoring. In order to ensure you are consuming the proper vitamins and minerals, either meet with a dietician or set an appointment for free nutrition counseling at SDSU’s Student Health Services.
—Stacey Oparnica is a journalism junior.