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Vegetarian, vegan diets worth consideration contrary to perceived disadvantages

Vegetarianism and veganism have a bad reputation of being unappealing, tasteless and lacking in nutrition. With a plentiful array of vegetarian options on the Hill, UCLA should better educate students on both the environmental and health benefits of trying a vegetarian diet. (Daily Bruin file photo)

By Srikanth Raguraman

Oct. 20, 2019 10:04 p.m.

Vegetarianism is often treated as taboo – like the boogeyman, or maybe Los Angeles Clippers fans.

The trend of vegetarianism and veganism, especially in Los Angeles and California as a whole, has appeared to explode over the years. Once thought of as a phantom cultist health trend, veganism and vegetarianism are now established staples in dietary culture.

However, the nutritional plans can often be seen as unrealistic, unappealing or both. According to a recent study published by UCLA psychologists, meat eaters perceive major barriers to going vegetarian, including accessibility, cost, health, taste and other less significant factors.

And while many of these concerns are valid, much of the research and data on vegetarianism contradicts them.

The stigma against vegetarianism and veganism is mostly unfounded, and most students at UCLA can definitely manage a healthy vegetarian diet if they choose to. Even small dietary changes, such as having one less meat entree a day, would have a significant impact on the health of the planet if everyone adopted such a practice – and UCLA would do well to better educate students on the changes they can make for themselves and for the planet. UCLA has done its best to accommodate the increasingly popular dietary plans, particularly through its dining options on the Hill. According to an emailed statement from UCLA Housing & Hospitality Services, all of the dining halls have roughly 50% vegetarian food on any given day.

But students have a long way to go when it comes to understanding the personal and environmental benefits of adopting a vegetarian diet. And UCLA could help with that.

If one lives off the Hill and UCLA Dining isn’t an option, a major concern is cost. The common perception is that vegetarian food is generally more expensive than meat options. However, top-quality meat is, on average, more expensive than top-quality vegetarian food – and a vegetarian diet is even cheaper in the long run. In light of this, UCLA could provide information on nearby places to buy inexpensive produce, so students can at least be aware of their options.

Jessie May, a first-year business economics student who is vegan, has experienced firsthand the reduced costs of a vegan diet.

“People think it’s more expensive to not eat meat, but from my experience, that’s just not the case,” May said. “Our family’s grocery bills have gone way down by replacing meat with foods like tofu, quinoa and beans.”

But for those on the Hill, cost isn’t the major issue; it’s a lack of awareness and education about the benefits and detriments of vegetarianism.

Another misconception is the apparent lack of nutritional value in a vegetarian diet, particularly in terms of protein.

Ryley Holdridge, a third-year atmospheric and oceanic sciences student, has been on the receiving end of protein-related concerns since becoming pescatarian – a person follows a mostly vegetarian diet, but still eats fish.

“Humans don’t need as much protein as they think they do,” Holdridge said. “And even if you wanted a lot of protein, as long as you maintained a healthy lifestyle, it’s in a variety of foods such as beans, nuts and grains.”

The perceived lack of nutrients, especially protein, from vegetarian food is just that – a perception.

On the Hill, the vegetarian options that dining halls have are often made with nutritional value in mind, according to UCLA Dining. Dining halls have no shortage of options – just take a look at Bruin Plate, considered the Hill’s healthiest dining hall. But students aren’t lacking in options, they’re lacking in awareness.

Then again, some just don’t like their veggies.

Sidhant Umbrajkar, a second-year biology student, voiced his qualms about vegetarianism beyond health.

“I’ve always been concerned about the difference in taste between meat compared to food in a vegetarian diet,” Umbrajkar said.

According to the same UCLA study cited previously, taste is a significant barrier for people considering a vegetarian diet in comparison to an omnivorous one. In truth, there is a taste barrier for many people who are accustomed to eating meat their entire lives simply because they haven’t approached vegetarian options with a more open mind.

But this shouldn’t be a barrier to trying vegetarianism.

There are also vegetarian options that taste exceptionally similar to meat, and UCLA Dining is beginning to incorporate them on the Hill.

“I know that places like Rendezvous have really nice vegetarian options, especially the (Impossible Foods) meat, that taste very similar to actual meat,” Umbrajkar said.

With vegetarian dishes that are approaching the taste of actual meat, the concern of inferior taste seems to be losing its legs.

In terms of the larger impact vegetarianism can have on one’s carbon footprint and the planet as a whole, UCLA has the opportunity to promote the idea that a few vegetarian choices, instead of meat options, can have a significant impact on the planet’s and students’ health.

UCLA could be also more active in promoting its vegetarian and vegan options at its dining halls, through infographics or advertisements advocating for its nonmeat options.

Part of the stigma associated with vegetarianism is the lack of awareness of some of the benefits of the nutritional plan. Plant-based meals have been proven many times over to have a smaller carbon footprint on the environment.

That being said, many people still may have qualms about going vegetarian. There may be reasons involving dietary restrictions, difficult lifestyle choices or a chaotic dietary transition. What you eat is entirely up to you. Then again, it’s not UCLA’s responsibility to educate students on dietary choices – that responsibility ultimately belongs to the individual.

However, students’ choices of nutrition shouldn’t rely on a misconstrued stigma of vegetarianism and veganism.

Maybe the LA Clippers aren’t worth consideration, but vegetarianism sure is.

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Srikanth Raguraman | Opinion columnist
Raguraman is an Opinion columnist and News contributor.
Raguraman is an Opinion columnist and News contributor.
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