Exploring the vegetarian lifestyle at Stanford University

The Stanford Daily | 07/22/10

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Someone once said that it's a rite of passage to become a vegetarian while in college. But for some Stanford students, this switch doesn't last only for a couple of years - it becomes a lifestyle change with long-lasting effects on their health and beliefs.

While many students decide to become vegetarians during college, there are also some that have been practicing some level of vegetarianism for years. According to Vivian Crisman, a nutritionist with Health Promotion Services at Vaden Health Center, some students decide to completely eliminate meat when they come to school.

"National data seem to indicate about 10-20 percent of college age students report being vegetarian," she wrote in an e-mail to the Daily. "When away from home and dining at Stanford, students find it easier to adopt a vegetarian lifestyle. So they might have been 'partial' vegetarians when at home in high school and now have gone completely vegetarian at Stanford."

Because of this, Stanford dining halls have been providing students with more vegetarian food options.

"For the most part, I think Stanford Dining does a very good job accommodating vegetarians," Hannah Belitz '13 wrote in an e-mail to The Daily. "I do think certain dining halls are better than others, though. A lot of the dining halls tend to just offer tofu as a meat alternative, which gets really tiring, but Wilbur, where I ate most of my meals last year, also had a lot of bean and lentil dishes, as well as a great selection of whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables."

Students choose to eliminate meat for a variety of reasons.

"Most commonly, students tell me the driving force is ecology and animal welfare reasons," Crisman said. "My concern is when I counsel students who choose to be vegetarian for ecology reasons but still have a lousy diet - having a lousy diet before means their diets could be even worse as a vegetarian."

But for other students, a vegetarian diet has been a part of their lifestyle for as long as they can remember. For those like Belitz, making smart food choices comes naturally.

"I've been eating this way for most of my life, so I don't really feel like it's affected my lifestyle," Belitz said. "This is simply the lifestyle I've always had. However, I do think I eat healthier and I'm more aware of what I eat as a result."

Ethics also play a major role in the decision to adopt a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle. After researching the cruel treatment of animals, Janani Balasubramanian '12, decided to completely eliminate animal products from her diet.

"I used to think, quite simply, that vegans were extreme and that vegetarianism itself was enough," Balasubramanian said. "But this thought prompted me to do further research. I looked into factory farming methods, not only for animals that were raised for slaughter, but also for animals raised for milk, eggs, wool, etc. It was heartbreaking."

"I decided then that since I had the resources, willpower and compassion to become vegan, I should do so," she added.

Graduate student in math Simon Rubinstein-Salzedo, another vegan, said he has found the lifestyle actually quite enjoyable.

"I have learned so much about so many different things by being vegan, ranging from facts about food production to learning how to stand up for myself to being a good host," he said. "Vegetarians are also generally much better and more creative cooks, and we generally eat a much wider variety of delicious foods."

Whether vegetarian or vegan, students agree that the decision to eliminate meat and animal products has had a major impact on both their health and morals.

"My ethics and praxis are more in line," Balasubramanian said. "I have a real way of effecting change at every meal of the day. I've also improved my health by moving away from processed foods and more toward whole vegan foods. I suppose I also eat much better food after being motivated to learn to cook more proficiently."

They students interviewed also believe that the greatest downfall of the lifestyle is the malicious comments they get from non-vegetarians.

"The cons, to be honest, are being pegged as an elitist or pretentious because of my food choices, or being scrutinized because my backpack might have a leather patch on it," Balasubramanian said. "I do not see these descriptors as fitting of veganism. I think veganism is about compassion, not perfection, and ultimately it's about the animals - including human animals - and the planet, not personal purity."

Allison Fink '12 believes students thinking about adopting a meat-free diet should learn as much as they can about the issues surrounding vegetarianism before they fully commit.

"If you are becoming a vegetarian for environmental reasons, for example, read up on the issue, be able to explain why you're doing it in a coherent, informed and non-judgmental way," she said. "People will listen, and you may convince some of them to at least cut back on their meat consumption."

"I also think that if you love meat, you don't have to go the masochistic route and give it all up at once," she added. "Even cutting back on meat consumption a little bit is better than nothing."


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