What is Vegetarianism?
What comes to mind when you think of someone who is vegetarian or vegan? A mellow, tree-hugging, peace-loving hippie? Or an angry middle-aged woman like That Vegan Teacher on Tiktok? Needless to say, modern-day vegetarians, especially the teenage vegetarians at high school, are quite different from the ones of the communes of the ‘60s and the extremists on social media.
First, it is important to recognize that a diet does not have to fall under a single term. There is a wide spectrum, and it is alright to be between categories. A diet without a specific label is still legitimate. JuniorJean-Luc DuPreez expresses the frustration and difficulties of the lack of terminology: “Certain people are haters just because there’s no word for cutting red meat out of your diet. So I just say that I’m a pescatarian because that’s my end goal.” Reflecting this diversity is the Stevenson student body, with people like Jazmin Morenzi, a fairly strict vegetarian, people like Mia Georgiou, an occasional-chicken-eater-that-is-mostly-vegan, and people like Jake Carlyle: “My family just eats stuff”.
Similar to the wide range of diets, there are a variety of reasons for why different people choose to have different diets; most people have multiple. Morenzi expresses, “I chose to be vegetarian to benefit the environment mostly, and to make myself eat more vegetables.” Adding on, DuPreez says, “I never really liked meat, especially not pork. So I kind of just decided to cut it out of my diet. [But] it’s mostly for environmental reasons because I know that cows contribute to a very large number of global greenhouse gas [emissions].” Protecting the environment is a recurring theme among the responses of vegetarians on campus for good reason. A UC Davis study has found cattle to be the top agricultural source of greenhouse gases worldwide. Each year, a single cow will belch about 220 pounds of methane, which, despite being short-lasting, is 28 times more potent in warming the atmosphere than carbon dioxide.
However, it’s hard work to save the planet. Vegetarians and vegans have been found to have lower Vitamin D and calcium levels since an important type of these nutrients, D3, can only be found in animals. A lack of zinc and protein is also common among vegetarians and more prevalently in vegans. Lena Maderer, a vegetarian and ex-vegan, explains the concern of a lack of nutrients, “I switched to being vegetarian three and a half years ago. It’s hard to be vegan because you really have to know what you’re eating. It’s really easy to go on a dangerous path with veganism, like [developing] eating disorders. As a boarder, I think it’s more difficult to be vegetarian because it’s not as easy to get those protein sources as it would be if you were at home.”
Given all the difficulties of being vegetarian—or even harder, being a vegetarian as a boarding student—many are shocked or worried when their loved ones share their interest in becoming vegetarian. I mean, who in their right mind would ever want to resist the allure of In-N-Out burgers, slow-roasted briskets, crispy fried chicken? Jane Giza, a vegetarian of several years, shares their annoyance: “Some people are like, ‘Ah, you don’t even miss blank? You don’t eat this?’” On a more serious note, a student recounts their experience: “My parents were worried that it [being vegetarian] was a sign of disordered eating. It wasn’t.” It seems like many of the loved ones of vegetarians are concerned for their health.
One’s diet is a large portion of their life with critical effects on their health and the environment. Don’t be afraid to experiment and try something new! But, please be safe when transitioning your diet, know your limits. Who knows, you might even enjoy vegetarian dishes?