By: Brittany Bowes| Illustrations: Orlando Pimentel
For the past decade, the vegetarian lifestyle has been on the rise, especially for Millennials and Generation Y-ers. Veganism and gluten-free diets have crept into the latest trends heavily over the past few years. Not only are these regimes parallel with the “Go Green” movement – involving an environmentally-friendly lifestyle and an endeavor to reduce carbon footprint – and the health-conscious mindset of much of Western society, but being a vegetarian is also a characteristic that many think of as “hipster” and “trendy.”
There are several reasons for excluding meat from one’s diet, ranging from ethics to social status. Regardless of reasoning, going vegetarian has several health benefits for both the body and the environment.
“I chose to do it for ethical reasons,” says Brooke Wallace, a junior mass media arts major from Atlanta. “I eat a lot more vegetables and healthy foods now like salads, eggs, beans, tofu, peanut butter.” Brooke set a meatless diet as a New Year’s resolution and plans on following through for at least a year.
For Rachel Connell, a sophomore animal science major from Savannah, vegetarianism has been routine since March of last year. “My reasons are mainly ethical, but my roommate from freshman year played a big role in influencing my decision by telling me about why she is a vegetarian,” Connell says.
Many people fear that a plant-based diet may result in deficiencies of the necessary nutrients found in meat, but Connell explains that it has benefitted her greatly. “I believe it has contributed to my health because I eat more fruit and vegetables than I used to. I also eat out less because I don't want to have to look for a place with options for me to eat, which has caused me to eat less fried food.”
Although many vegetarian diets sprout from ethical disagreement, typically pertaining to the poor treatment of animals in plants and factories, many claim they partake in the diet because of the personal health that ensues.
“I decided to become a vegetarian because overall, it makes me feel healthier and have more energy,” says Madison Jarvis, a sophomore public relations major from Suwanee. Jarvis has been following a vegetarian diet for about a year and says her mom inspired her to do so.
According to Vegetarian Times magazine, there are several health benefits that come from a vegetarian diet, including warding off disease: “Vegetarian diets are more healthful than the average American diet, particularly in preventing, treating or reversing heart disease and reducing the risk of cancer.” It can even help you live longer. “If you switch from the standard American diet to a vegetarian diet, you can add about 13 healthy years to your life,” says Michael F. Roizen, MD. Other benefits include keeping weight down, building stronger bones and increasing energy. Needless to say, these results will likely concur if accompanied by a strict, health-conscious vegetarian diet. In terms of environmental-friendliness, Vegetarian Times proclaims that vegetarianism can “help reduce pollution, avoid toxic chemicals and reduce famine.”
With the vegetarian/vegan population on the rise, it’s essential that grocers, restaurants and other food-based businesses keep up. Brands like Tofurky, Morning Star, Boca and Gardein manufacture meatless products like deli turkey, sausage, meatballs, burgers and even chicken strips that consist of ingredients such as vegetables, soybeans and vegetable protein. These brands can be found in even the most general grocery stores, including Kroger and Walmart. Organic and gluten-free sections commonly found in most grocery stores, as well as the growth of farmer’s markets such as Earth Fare and Sprouts, have made clean-eating and vegetarian diets convenient and easy to sustain. Several restaurants also now provide vegetarian/vegan friendly options to accommodate for the rising numbers of people following the vegetarian lifestyle. Some restaurants, such as the Grit here in Athens, are solely vegetarian. Other vegetarian-friendly restaurants in Athens include Barberitos, which serves tofu, Brixx Wood Fired Pizza, which makes their pizza with vegan dough, and Grindhouse Killer Burgers, which serves veggie burgers.
Vegetarianism takes a lot of dedication, but with the convenience, health benefits and environmental sustainability it has to offer, it might be worth a shot.