Beef, it’s what for dinner – well not for everybody. Soy-based tofu is replacing pork as the other white meat. It is appearing more and more on supermarket shelves and dinner plates across America. According to a July survey by Time magazine, 10 million Americans consider themselves to be practicing vegetarians and an additional 20 million have flirted with vegetarianism sometime in their past.
Junior Tyler Neyhart, who has been a vegetarian for almost 10 years and a vegan for five, originally stopped eating meat because he did not want to eat a hotdog at a band banquet in middle school. He said it was not until about six months later, after talking to a vegan friend about the ethics and morality of killing animals, that he made the choice to eat only vegetarian foods.
While Neyhart said he originally stopped eating meat because he thought killing animals was wrong, his beliefs have changed slightly.
“It’s not a matter of killing animals that is wrong,” Neyhart explained. “I believe from the time they’re born to the time they die there should be some standards in the way they’re treated and the way their life is.”
Neyhart said he did not have a specific moment of vegetarian epiphany. It did not take the sight of a mistreated cow or a slaughtered animal to influence his decision.
“It’s not something you can just do all of a sudden,” Neyhart said. “I did it in steps because my mindset evolved. As my mind set progressed, my dietary habits followed.”
Neyhart said living in a metropolitan area, he can easily access many places on and off campus to meet his dietary needs.
“If I went to a school in the middle of nowhere I’d probably be more reliant on the university,” said Neyhart.
Some of Neyhart’s regulars include Mehran, a Pakistani restaurant at 21st Street and Pennsylvania Avenue and DJ’s Fast Break at 22nd and G streets.
He said Mehran has good vegetarian options at good prices and DJ’s Fast Break has many vegetarian alternatives. Neyhart also enjoys the veggie burgers at Lindy’s Red Lion, Quick Pita and D.C. Cafe.
Neyhart said since he became a vegan, he has made a conscious effort to ensure he receives the right nutrients. He takes a vegan multivitamin, a calcium pill and a soy protein supplement everyday.
Vegetarians at GW have several dining options around D.C., including Amma Vegetarian Kitchen, located at 3291 M St., NW provides fast, affordable Indian cuisine is fast and affordable.
The ’50s-style eatery Johnny Rockets also offers some vegetarian options. The veggie-burger, called the Streamliner, is stacked with grilled onions, lettuce, mustard, tomatoes and pickles. Johnny Rockets has three locations in the metro area at Union Station, Pentagon City and Georgetown. In addition to the Streamliner, Johnny Rockets offers grilled cheese and an egg salad sandwich.
Junior Cara Starosielec, a vegetarian since middle school, never liked the consistency of meat. At first she stopped eating red meat, and eventually stopped eating chicken and turkey within a year.
“I don’t really eat at J Street that much,” she said. “I only have like 150 points. Even as freshman and sophomore I never really went there for my meals, but when I do, I eat pasta and veggie burgers and pizza. But how much pizza can you eat?”
Starosielec said she is not the best at balancing her nutrition, but she eats a lot of dairy and tries to eat foods with a lot of protein, such as power bars.
Starosielec said she enjoys cooking, but when she’s not in the mood she will order from Quick Pita or Little Cafe.
According to the food pyramid, a balanced diet includes two to three servings of meat, poultry, fish, dry beans, eggs and nuts, and two to three servings of milk, yogurt and cheese. These foods contain protein, calcium, iron, and zinc. Can vegetarians stay healthy without getting their daily dose of chicken? Health experts say yes, it just requires a little creativity.
Various studies show that consuming more vegetables and fruits reduces the risk of obesity, heart disease and, in some cases, cancer. According to a Tufts health study conducted this year, about two-thirds of college students do not eat enough fruits and vegetables and 60 percent consume too much saturated fat.
“Red meats have more saturated fat, which is bad for you,” said Dr. Mark Sklar, endocrinologist and 13-year vegetarian. “That’s why I stay away from red meats. Saturated fat make your cholesterol go up.”
Sklar said a vegetarian or vegan diet is beneficial if done correctly. He said a varied diet is a must.
“You can’t just eat only broccoli and green beans,” said Sklar. “If you didn’t eat any protein sources, like beans or tofu, you can become protein deficient.”
According to Taber’s Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary, protein is essential for growth, the building of new tissue, and the repair of injured or broken down tissue.
Sklar suggests vegetarians and vegans take supplements, in addition to eating the right foods, such as a multivitamins and especially vitamin D and B-12 for vegans, who consume no animal food or dairy products.
Vitamin D, most commonly found in fortified milk, helps the body absorb calcium to form and maintain strong bones. Vitamin D deficiency can cause bones to become thin, brittle or soft.
Vitamin B-12 is naturally found in meat, milk products and poultry. It helps maintain healthy nerve cells and is needed to make DNA and deficiency may cause anemia.
So is it healthier to cut meat out of a diet and is the human body supposed to eat meat?
“Humans are herbivorous, they can survive as vegetarians,” Sklar said.
“Carnivores tend to have different mouth structure, not like the teeth for grinding that herbivores have. Carnivores have teeth that tear the meat apart.”
Sklar said red meat is not unhealthy for humans in moderation.
It depends on how you replace meat in your diet, said senior Michael Tokaruk, who was a vegetarian from age 13 to 19. He chose to start eating meat again in college because he missed the taste.
“A lot of people turn vegetarian that do not eat the right foods,” Tokaruk said. “You need to do research so you can eat properly, otherwise you can become deficient in minerals and protein.”
-Amanda Muller contributed to this report.