Student vegans, vegetarians strive for better diet

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By: Rosemary Boeglin <rboeglin@hilite.org>

Junior Kara Cifizzari does not rush through the lunch line grabbing the pepperoni pizza, the French fries baked in fish oil or the taco salad. She picks up carrots, perhaps, if anything at all.

It has been about seven months of absolutely zero animal products for Cifizzari, making her, by definition, a vegan; this includes all products associated with animals even if they are not digested, such as wearing leather or certain beauty products. “It’s what I believe in. I don’t believe animals should be killed for our own pleasure,” Cifizzari said.

This lifestyle is unusual, but not unheard of here. Patti Brinegar, Orientation to Foods and Nutrition teacher, said that Cifizzari is not the only vegan or vegetarian student she has had in class.

“There are a lot of different reasons that students are vegans or vegetarians, like animal rights, health reasons, or religious reasons,” she said.

Deciding to become a vegan or vegetarian is only the beginning. Cifizzari, like many vegans and vegetarians, said her family members do not join her in the decision to cut out meat and other animal products from her life. Thus, there is the new responsibility of making meals that follow the guidelines. Fortunately, Cifizzari said her mother takes her to the grocery store to buy the ingredients needed for her vegan dishes.

“For dinner I usually cook my own food; I use a lot of tofu and rice. I look in my refrigerator and pull out some colorful things, because color means a lot of vitamins,” Cifizzari said.

Brinegar said she caters to students with special food needs in her classes.

“If I have a vegan student, I allow them to use protein substitutions,” Brinegar said.

For Cifizzari it is important to stay healthy in her vegan diet. “For breakfast I try to get a fruit, protein and grain like an English muffin with peanut butter and jelly,” Cifizzari said.

For lunch, if she eats, she said it is usually just be vegetables, because according to her, there are not a lot of good options for vegans in the school cafeteria.

According to Brinegar, protein is an important part of the human diet that can be easily cut out and forgotten by vegans and vegetarians because it is generally supplied by meat products in omnivorous diets.

“It is important to get protein with every meal, I carry around nuts because it’s a good source and easy,” Cifizzari said.

Brinegar said that vegan and vegetarian students can be as healthy if they are educated.

“Protein is one of the things we need least of and most vegans and vegetarians can get enough from vegetable sources. Most people get too much protein in their diet,” Brinegar said.

The herbivore diet, because it is so different from that of most, has its drawbacks and perks. Cifizzari said she rarely goes out to restaurants to eat anymore because it is hard to make sure that everything is being prepared to her vegan needs, “Other food grosses me out and I can taste it right away if it’s in the food I’m eating, even things like butter,” Cifizzari said.

Also, she said she takes vitamins in addition to her regular diet to make sure that she is getting all of the nutrients that she needs.

Brinegar said, “Vegans can be very healthy as long as they get enough protein and get the vitamins and minerals that only animal products provide.”

Being a vegan or vegetarian does have potential to be unhealthy. Both Cifizzari and Brinegar said that it is important to be educated about the diet before just deciding to cut meat or all animal products out. Cifizzari said that books are important but it is better to talk to a person.

The upsides to being a vegan or vegetarian are very evident, though. In The New Becoming Vegetarian by Vesanto Melina, MS, RD, and Brenda Davis, RD, health benefits such as less obesity, reduced risk of chronic disease, improved longevity, reduced risk of food borne illness, lower intakes of environmental contaminants and nutrition intakes that are closer to current nutrition recommendations are among many proven advantages to a meatless diet.

Cifizzari said she believes her lifestyle is healthier, “I feel so much better that I’ve removed all the meat out of my diet,” she said. According to her, being vegan reduces the risk of heart disease and diabetes.

Cifizzari said, “Even Albert Einstein said that a transition to a vegetarian diet is essential for human evolution, and he was a smart guy.”

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