Vegetarians continue to sprout

By Amy Fredette

Arizona Daily Wildcat

While the diet of many college students consists of whatever comes out of the vending machines, a growing population are exploring the benefits of vegetarianism.

“About 15 percent of the 15 million students nationwide have switched to a vegetarian diet,” said Lige Weill, president of the Vegetarian Awareness Network. She also cited a 1992 survey by Roper College Track, a college market research company, which found 40 percent of college students considered vegetarianism to be “in” on campus.

Karen Palmquist, a University of Arizona art freshman, has been a vegetarian for seven years. For Palmquist, the transition was gradual. She started by first eliminating red meat, and eventually all meat and meat products. She said it was a personal decision based on information she received from vegetarians who told her how animals were raised and treated in slaughterhouses.

“It was disgusting and horrifying to find out the way animals were treated and the conditions they were raised in,” Palmquist said. “I never liked red meat to begin with, but I was told by my parents that I wouldn’t be able to survive without it.

“Once I was able to make my own decisions, I switched to the vegetarian diet. Now I feel healthier and more humane.”

Some people become vegetarians for moral, ethical or religious reasons. But many choose vegetarianism simply as a means to a more healthful diet.

“Research is showing that people who are on this type of diet are at less risk for chronic diseases like cancer, diabetes or cardiovascular diseases,” said Gina Nevarez, a registered dietician at the UA Student Health Center.

“Meat-eating increases your risks of getting diseases,” said Jeremy Ruiz, an electrical engineering sophomore who became a vegetarian one year ago.

Ruiz said he became a vegetarian mainly for health reasons and added that meat is often filled with antibiotics. He said his sister was leading toward vegetarianism before he started and she told him about it.

He said he feels that a vegetarian diet is “easier” for him because he now eats less junk food and more fruits and vegetables. “I feel a lot healthier and I don’t get sick as much as I used to.”

Vegetarians usually fall under one of four distinct categories: lacto-ova, lacto, ova and strict vegetarian or vegan.

Lacto-ova vegetarians eat plant foods, eggs and milk/milk products. Lacto vegetarians eat plant foods and other dairy products, with the exception of eggs. Ova vegetarians consume plant foods and eggs, but stay away from milk and milk products. Vegans refrain from eating any animal products.

Nevarez suggested that a person trying to make the switch should attempt it gradually by cutting out the fattiest meats first, then progressing to eating meat occasionally and, finally, cutting out meat completely.

However, it is important to remember that once a person removes meat from his/her diet, the nutrients once supplied by the meat must be replaced with alternative sources in order for a person to remain healthy.

“You have to be conscious,” Nevarez said.

She recommends to anyone who decides to switch to the vegetarian diet to talk to other long-term vegetarians, meet with a nutritionist and have a dietary analysis done. People can meet with nutritionists at Student Health and at the Wellness Center, which also offers dietary analyses.

Nevarez said she has noticed a growing number of student vegetarians on campus and as a result, she has started to compile sheets of nutritional information for all the different types of vegetarians. The information can be found on a brochure rack outside the UA Wellness Center.

Another resource for vegetarians, those wanting to become vegetarians or those who want learn about the lifestyle, is the Vegetarian Resource Group of Tucson. The non-profit organization currently has about 150 members, said Robert Oser, a co-founder of the group.

“Our purpose is to give information and not exclude,” Oser said. “We see ourselves as not pressuring people into becoming vegetarians, but as people become interested, we can help them make the transition.”

The group’s goal is to provide access to information as well as instruction in all areas of health and vegetarianism. The group has an extensive library that includes books, articles, brochures and video cassettes pertaining to vegetarian nutrition, restaurants, environmental issues, cooking classes and animal rights.

Once a month, the group holds potlucks which feature a guest speaker or special program. People can bring a vegetarian dish to add to those brought by others. Oser strongly encourages people to come to the potlucks because they are “fun” and you have an opportunity to meet people with similar interests. The next potluck is Sun., May 14, from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the Northwest Center, 2160 N. Sixth Ave.

Weill founded the Vegetarian Awareness Network in 1980 in Knoxville, Tenn., because he felt that there was a big need for the information. “A lot of people are wanting to know (about vegetarianism),” he said.

The network first began as a vegetarian restaurant referral, but after being flooded with “hundreds of calls,” Weill decided to transform his service into an informational hotline. The number is 1-800-872-8343. People can also call 1-800-KIT-VEGE to receive a free kit containing vegetarian recipes, nutritional and product information, coupons and a referral list of vegetarian groups nationwide.

Switching to the vegetarian diet is not for everyone, although anybody can become one. “You have to do what’s best for you, what you feel best about,” Nevarez said.

“I think that people broaden their horizons when they come to college,” she said. “They try different things and I think vegetarianism is one of the things they will try. Most of them will stick with it, but some people will try it and then go back to their regular diet.”

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