One of the things I love most is learning about both my own perspective and the perspectives of others who aren’t like me. I like reading texts and getting into discussions that challenge my existing beliefs and cause me to either defend or reconsider my point of view.
On Thursday I found myself thinking about vegetarianism. We talk about white privilege and male privilege, but never omnivore privilege. It’s different because vegetarianism is voluntary and race/sex isn’t, but meat eaters do find themselves with significantly more choices because of the general assumption that people eat meat. As a meat eater, I don’t face those limitations, and thus I couldn’t really empathize with them.
And I wanted to change that. I wanted the challenge of doing something so unlike me. I wanted to heighten my awareness of both my own dependency on meat and the options (or lack thereof) available to vegetarians.
I decided that I would spend Friday living as a vegetarian. No meat, no fish. But I also wanted to eat healthily. The dining hall makes it easy enough to get a veggie burger and fries, which would fall into a vegetarian diet, but I wanted to explore options beyond that.
Here’s what I ate:
Breakfast (7:30am): A banana with peanut butter, oatmeal with brown sugar, one egg over hard, a glass of water, and a glass of skim milk.
There were a fair amount of other options available that would fit a vegetarian diet, including omelets, bagels, cereal, fruit, and yogurt.
Snack (10:30am): Stopped by the dining hall and drank two glasses of water and an apple to tide me over until lunch.
Lunch (12pm): Pasta with spicy red pepper sauce, a slice of broccoli cheese pizza, and corn. I also made myself a fantastic salad of spinach, romaine, red/yellow/green bell peppers, peas, carrots, bean salad (garbanzo beans, red beans, and white beans), feta cheese, and greek dressing.
These were the only options available to vegetarians besides veggie burgers and a three mushroom barley soup (I hate mushrooms, so that was NOT happening).
Snack (3pm): A peanut butter protein smoothie from the on-campus smoothie/coffee shop.
Dinner (5:30pm): Mashed sweet potatoes, broccoli, carrots, cornbread, tomato soup, sweet and sour tofu, and Mexican-style rice and beans.
I had the strangest combination of foods at dinner, but I tried almost everything that was available for vegetarians. The only other choices would be cheese pizza, pasta with marinara sauce, the salad bar, or a vegetarian sandwich bar from the deli station. The quality itself was fine, but it’s sad that in the largest dining hall the options were so limited that it required searching and mixing various cuisines from different stations. Unlike the meat-based menu, the vegetarian choices aren’t particularly cohesive.
Snack (9pm): 100-calorie pretzel pack with Laughing Cow Creamy Swiss wedge.
I definitely sensed a difference in how hungry I was after dinner, and this probably comes from a decrease in the amount of protein I could get at my meal. Tofu and beans have sufficient amounts, but my usual diet that consists of a lot of chicken trumps the protein levels that I could get at dinner. Vegetarians not eating on campus have more options for food choices, but I found that the dining hall fell a bit short of choices that would provide adequate protein for non-meat eaters.
As experiments go, this one was successful in achieving my goals. It certainly made me realize my own dependency on meat; some days I eat meat at all three meals, and I don’t think I’ve ever gone a day without meat. I felt limited, a bit frustrated, and tempted to give up. Breaking habits is always difficult, and it was strange for me to look at meat-based choices and pass them all up. In that regard, this experiment was surprisingly difficult, and I was definitely grateful when I got up on Saturday and could return to my normal diet.
Not only was it hard for me to eat vegetarian because of my long-standing habit of omnivorism, I also owe much of the day’s difficulty to the lack of vegetarian choices on campus. My smorgasbord-style dinner left my palette confused and my appetite underwhelmed.
On Friday night I went to bed with a much greater appreciation for vegetarians and their regular frustration with a lack of choices and alternatives to meat. While it is expected that those who self-impose dietary restrictions would face fewer choices, I find it ridiculous that vegetarians are so limited on campus and I completely sympathize with their plight.
Vegetarians, I may still be an avid meat eater, but I am now on your side.