The vegetarian population in the United States is growing.
A record-number 7.3 million people are now following a vegetarian-based diet, according to a study conducted by the Vegetarian Times magazine, and Bowling Green State University students, faculty and dining services are making room for the steadily growing vegetarian and vegan demographic.
BGSU Dining Services insight. Blachowski-Dreyer by aleshag
“I think that [the rise of vegetarianism] goes hand-in-hand with the rise of the obesity epidemic,” said Daria Blachowski-Dreyer, assistant director of operations and wellness for University Dining Services. “People are looking for alternatives, whatever that alternative might be.”
Blachowski-Dreyer also works with the University’s vegetarian/vegan club to advocate options and variety in on-campus dining.
“We try to work in all of our units where if you walk up to a station, there is always a vegetarian option,” she said. “We have garden burgers on request. If we have two soups, one of them is always vegan or vegetarian. We offer plant proteins on our salad bars so that people have options.”
The desire to accommodate vegetarians extends off campus. Squeaker’s vegan cafe and health food store is located downtown.
Local Vegan Cafe Heather Andre by aleshag
“We offer a wide selection of vegan lunches and dinners,” said Heather Andre, the owner of Squeaker’s. “I try to offer a wide variety of foods for vegans, vegetarians and people who just want to eat healthier. People are starting to realize that it’s a much healthier lifestyle.”
Andre offers vegan specialties, from bagels to lemon cupcakes.
“I try to keep my prices down so people can afford it,” Andre said. “Everybody can afford to come here, even if you’re on a limited budget … my whole goal behind this is to save animals. This is more than just a business; it’s a cause.”
Along with the health trend, 54 percent of vegetarians follow a vegetarian diet based on animal welfare, according to the Vegetarian Times.
It’s all about animal rights. Sam Kirsch by aleshag
“[Being vegetarian] is helping me ethically and morally,” said sophomore Sam Kirsch, the president and founder of Saving Animals from Violence and Exploitation. “I’m doing what I believe is right, and I’m not eating animals because I care about animals, and I’m fighting for animals. Everything has always been about animals for me.”
SAVE raised more than $200 for “Adopt a Horse” and sponsored “Adopt a Turkey” in the student Union before Thanksgiving with free samples of Tofurky, a tofu-based “lunchmeat” product. They have currently raised money for bunnies during Easter.
“I think there is more of a trend toward limiting our meat intake,” she said. “Even if people don’t give it up entirely, it’s definitely a good thing because every little bit counts. Every little bit of animal we don’t eat, that’s an animal that gets to live. And that’s a good push, a good thing to fight for.”
Considering meat-eaters and those who are open to trying new food, or “flexitarians,” Blachowski-Dreyer stresses the importance of quality, proportion control, improved preparation and hiding the “healthiness factor” beneath exceptional taste.
“Sometimes people are afraid when you just hand something to them and say, ‘this is vegetarian; it’s good for you,'” she said. “Sadly vegetables have a bad connotation. Just tell them, ‘here’s a chili.’ Did I tell you if it’s a beef chili, a turkey chili, a vegetarian chili? It’s more of a textual thing, and if you’re using the proper seasoning and they can’t tell, I’m all for it.”
Do we really need more variety?
While some think vegetarian interests are represented in the dining halls, others wish for more variety.
“If we’re fighting for awareness on this issue, this vegetarian cause, how can we fight for something when we don’t even have anything to back ourselves up with?” Kirsch said. “People say, ‘well I have meal plan money, so I’m going to buy meat.’ If there were more vegetarian options on campus, more people would be persuaded not to eat meat as much.”
For dining services, it is not always easy to incorporate a mainly vegetarian-based menu.
A difficult choice.
“Sadly, cheese is a universal binder, so we struggle with our vegetarian options for people who don’t want that much cheese,” Blachowski-Dreyer said. “From a production standpoint, it’s a difficult thing.”
“We try to bring awareness,” Blachowski-Dreyer said. “Some people have not been exposed to it. We get students to see this isn’t what they think it.”