Freshman Pam McLemore leaned against the counter in J Street, clasping a plate full of vegetables and pasta salad with one hand while waving her other hand wildly in the air to emphasize her words.
I’ve always been told by people that I’m somehow disrupting the food chain because I’m not too fond of eating the flesh of other creatures, but I just don’t feel like it’s something that’s right for me to do, McLemore says.
McLemore, who has been a vegetarian for the last six years, is part of the growing number of college students who are opting to make the choice to cut down on their consumption of meat. According to a recent Gallup poll, more than 15 percent of America’s college students on any given day select a meatless option for their meals.
Students cite different reasons for their choice to consume less meat, ranging from health concerns, to moral objections, to religious beliefs and say the collegiate atmosphere has nurtured their vegetarian beliefs.
Junior Cathy Resler, a member of the University’s Dining Services Commission and a vegetarian for the past 11 years, says she thinks college is the time when many students are exposed to new people and belief systems, which leads more college students to become vegetarians.
We’re at the most idealistic point in our lives, she says. We’ve got that bright-eyed, passionate, `we’re going to change the world’ idea, and then we’re exposed to other people who are vegetarians, and then we become part of the trend.
McLemore is a student who helps the growing trend by talking openly with other students about her decision not to eat meat. She says she decided to become a vegetarian in seventh grade, when she watched a video in science class detailing the slaughtering of pigs. Since coming to college, she says her beliefs have been encouraged by the other vegetarians she has met, the curiosity of meat-eaters and her work at the National Institutes of Health.
When I have to actually kill the mice before I dissect them, I start to realize how sad the death of animals makes me, she says, her face growing visibly pained.
Like McLemore, freshman Shayna Kulik, a vegetarian for the past five years, says she never really felt right about eating animals. Becoming a vegetarian has allowed her to experiment more with her food and follow a healthier diet plan, she says.
At home, so many people’s parents are the ones who do the grocery shopping and make the meals, and they’re kind of set in their ways, Kulik says between bites of her vegetable soup. You get to college, and now you are the one making the decisions about what you eat, and so it’s so much easier to adopt a vegetarian lifestyle.
Junior Bobby Nashawaty says he is a recent convert to vegetarianism and cites health and cost-effectiveness as his reasons for adopting a vegetarian lifestyle. Nashawaty says he tried a high-protein diet that was virtually all meat last summer. But when he came back to school and began dating a vegetarian, he says he realized how he could become healthier and save money by giving up his carnivorous ways.
Being around others who don’t eat meat definitely helps people learn about vegetarianism and realize how cost-effective and nutritious it is, he says while handing over a couple of crumpled dollar bills for his baked potato to the J Street employee at the vegetarian food station.
But unlike McLemore and Kulik, Nashawaty says he is not really concerned for animal welfare.
I don’t have anything against meat, he says. In fact, I love meat. I just cooked a lamb dinner for friends two weeks ago.
Some students say while they tend toward more vegetarian diets for health reasons, they are not completely ready to give up their hamburgers permanently.
Sophomore Gordon Lau says he has tried to reduce the amount of meat he eats since coming to college but says he will probably never give up meat entirely because he feels it would alienate him from part of his Chinese culture.
I met a lot of people, especially girls, who come to college and decide to stop eating meat because they’re scared of gaining the `Freshman 15,’ he says. But I just cut back to be healthier.
College students are so easily influenced by trends, and so they decide to go vegetarian to fit in with the trends, Lau’s friend, sophomore Rocky Cipriano, interjects with a laugh. Cipriano says he tries not to eat excessive amounts of meat but doesn’t think he will ever give up meat entirely.
But for some students, like Resler, vegetarianism is much more than a trend: it’s a religion.
I guess I always had a problem with (eating meat), and I never understood why something should be killed for me and what gave me that right, she says with a sense of urgency in her voice. For me and so many other college students, it’s just something inside of me, part of who I am.