I gave up eating animals five years ago. Chicken, beef, fish, gelatin, lard — you name it — were instantly cut from my life. Admittedly, my decision to make the dietary switch had been mostly influenced by basic considerations of ethics at the time. I had been watching videos of common behaviors in the meat industry until I could no longer bear the image of mistreated animals in my stomach. I hadn’t fully evaluated the broader implications or nuances of vegetarianism when I made this intuitive choice.
With an impassioned meat-free month under my belt, I had anticipated reevaluating myself as a more energetic, empowered and maybe even progressive person. After all, I was eating an increasingly faddish plant-based diet, and feeling better seemed to follow as a given. Weeks passed, and as I stared down at my large nightly bowl of macaroni and cheese, I realized that I still felt heavy, and that science classes continued to flag my high carbon footprint, due to my near-constant consumption of dairy and eggs.
Eliminating meat from my diet had only been the first step. I needed to branch out of my comfort zone, find new and healthier options and ease away from my reliance on non-slaughter animal products as major food sources. I began experimenting with new seeds and herbs, pumpkins and squashes and the seemingly endless variations of soy, until I had formed a well balanced diet that worked for my nutritional needs. Over the past few years, I have focused on vegetarianism as a powerful tool for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and needless water usage, and ultimately as a method of achieving environmental justice.
The University offers educational programs, conducts research and engages in regular sustainability efforts under the umbrella movement Planet Blue. East Quad Residence Hall recently opted to participate in a specific operation, by implementing three dates of Meatless Mondays throughout this semester. The concept of Meatless Monday dates back to conservation efforts during World War I and has since transformed into an international health and environmental campaign.
As a current resident of East Quad, I thoroughly enjoyed the accomplishment and promotion of the two Meatless Mondays that have already taken place. Our dining hall had noticeably less traffic on these days, due to the availability of meat options at nearby dining halls, but staff enthusiastically served delicious alternatives for vegetarians and venturing meat-eaters alike. Breakfast on Feb. 23 featured frittata and French toast, and lunch and dinner had fried vegetable po’boy, risotto and portobello sliders. March 9 provided grilled cheese, pierogies, stir fry and black bean burgers, among other main courses.
I commend East Quad for its dedication to a highly varied and appetizing menu. Dishes hailing from diverse geographical regions were prominently featured, and food quality exceeded Michigan dining’s standards on both Meatless Mondays. Residents committed to vegetarianism or otherwise sustainable eating found an easier time navigating choices that catered to their lifestyles.
At the same time, I do not believe that the food reflected our potential to design healthy and entirely plant-based meals. Meatless Monday served many fried options, and most main courses involved dairy or eggs. Although vegetarian diets may include the consumption of certain animal products, East Quad should consider reducing its reliance on them as well as fried foods to represent the usual meals of vegetarians.
Plenty of healthy and tasty alternatives exist that don’t exclude vegan diets or mindful eaters. For example, the dining hall could reintroduce its oatmeal bar, offer whole-grain pasta instead of white and include a broader selection of nuts, seeds and fruits. It also could grill or bake items as opposed to frying them and offer hearty courses like root vegetable soup, avocado salads, couscous dishes and curried lentils.
Walking toward the dining hall on the first vegetarian day, students passed several large posters that prompted, “I LOVE Meatless Monday because … ” and “I HATE Meatless Monday because … ” with available markers for their personal input. The typical dining hall feedback cards had been removed from tables for a more public display of student opinions.
While I admire the availability of a platform for conversation, East Quad could take this a step further by removing the adversarial format and setting up spaces for dialogues about vegetarianism and other sustainability topics. Most student comments on the posters pointed to rational concerns on either end of the debate and could be expanded to engage in a truly comprehensive discussion in the future.
East Quad has already done an excellent job of branching out of traditional meals, raising awareness and participating in a respectable campaign. But I encourage my residence hall to foster real conversations during our third and final Meatless Monday of the semester, which takes place on April 13. New projects involve growing pains. Just as many individuals learn and adapt to their new lifestyles, we also have the capacity to present the most healthful versions of a vegetarian diet at Michigan, and extend our collective comfort zone in the process.
Stephanie Trierweiler is an LSA freshman.