Today is World Vegetarian Day. This day kicks off National Vegetarian Awareness Month which continues throughout the whole month of October. World Vegetarian Day was founded by the North American Vegetarian Society in 1977 and was recognized by the International Vegetarian Union in 1978. The purpose of this day is to share “the joy, compassion and life-enhancing possibilities of vegetarianism.”
Vegetarian, Vegan… What does it mean?
The terms vegetarian and vegan are constantly being thrown around with no definitions to go along with them. The difference between these diets is simply the amount animal products that are consumed. Vegetarians generally will not eat any animal meat but will eat animal products such as eggs and dairy. Individuals who follow this diet are considered Lacto-ovo vegetarians. If they choose to remove eggs from their diet, they would be considered Lacto Vegetarians. When an individual decides to remove all animal by-products from his/her diet, including milk, eggs, and honey, they are now vegan.
Is it Beneficial?
People choose to take on a vegetarian lifestyle for various reasons. Some do it for religious purposes, some do it for the animals and the environment, and others simply believe they feel better not eating meat.
In 2014, the Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition (BCFN) published their ‘Double Pyramid’ showing the impact of our diets on the environment. The ‘Double Pyramid’ displays the food pyramid for a Mediterranean diet, which consists primarily of fruits, vegetables, complex carbohydrates, and vegetable proteins, alongside a pyramid showing the impact of our food on the environment. BCFN’s pyramid shows that animal products tend to have higher environmental impact. This idea supports the argument that vegetarian and vegan diets are more sustainable.
Regarding health and nutrition, vegetarian and vegan diets consist primarily of fruits and vegetables which inherently makes them lower in saturated fats and higher in vitamins and minerals. Many people wonder whether or not it is possible to consume the right amount of protein, Vitamin B and iron from a diet without meat. To answer this question, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics released an article stating their position on vegetarian and vegan diets, “appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.” The key to this statement is ‘appropriately planned.’ When meat and animal products are removed from the diet it is much harder to get the nutrients mentioned above. However, as noted by the Academy, if you eat carefully and thoughtfully, vitamin deficiency should not be anything to worry about. In fact, vegetarians often have lower LDL or ‘bad cholesterol’ and better control over their blood sugar.
Can I do it on Campus?
If you haven’t been looking for vegetarian or vegan options, you probably haven’t noticed how many are out there. A variety of different plant-based proteins such as tofu, beans, and nuts, are always available at the salad bars. At University Park’s Waring Commons, there is even a station called Veg Works that serves only vegan and vegetarian dishes. If you’re not at this campus look out for the Meatless (M) and Vegan (V) icons on the entrée cards for the many options in your own Penn State dining location.
Even if you don’t feel like ditching the meat completely, come check out all of these delicious options and maybe even try leaving meat off your plate once a week during the month of October to honor all the vegetarians out there.
“Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Vegetarian Diets.” Scribd. N.p., 12 June 2015. Web. 30 June 2015. <http://www.scribd.com/doc/268481949/Position-of-the-Academy-of-Nutrition-and-Dietetics-Vegetarian-Diets#scribd>.
“2014 Double Pyramid – Food Styles and Environmental Impact – Barilla CFN.” Barilla CFN. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 June 2015. <http://www.barillacfn.com/en/position-paper/pp-2014-double-pyramid-food-styles-and-environmental-impact/>.
“World Vegetarian Day – Website.” World Vegetarian Day. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 June 2015. <http://www.worldvegetarianday.org/>.
Photo adapted from Rikki’s Refuge