In 1971, only 1 percent of Americans described themselves as vegetarians, but today, 3.2 percent of Americans do, with 10 percent of Americans following a vegetarian-inclined diet. The percentage at Williams is unknown, but it’s definitely at least in line with the national numbers. While many herbivores cite animal welfare and environmental concerns as their primary reasons for giving up meat, others do so to improve their health. However, not all vegetarians are created equal: Being vegetarian does not guarantee that one will have complete, balanced diet. I set out to explore the differences between various veggie-heavy lifestyles and how students overcome barriers to total nutrition that accompany restricted diets.
Lacto-ovo vegetarianism, the most common kind of vegetarianism, consists of a diet that does not contain meat but allows for the consumption of animal products such as eggs, dairy and honey. Anna Savoie ’14 has been vegetarian since she was four. “When I was really young, the reason I started was that I found out that animals were meat, and I didn’t want to hurt them,” she said. “Since then it’s developed into a complex moral thing. If we don’t need meat to survive, then I feel like it’s an unnecessary death.” Savoie described how she makes up for the lost protein with eggs, milk, peanut butter and tofu. “Williams does a really good job for providing food for people who don’t eat certain things – people who are allergic to gluten, people who keep kosher, et cetera,” she said. “I find it’s pretty easy to be healthy, but I have to definitely make an effort.”
Pescetarianism, though not a strictly vegetarian diet, is still closely related to the vegetarian lifestyle. Pescetarians include fish and seafood in their diets but still avoid poultry and red meat. Dan Kurnick ’15, who is a wrestler, wanted to become a vegetarian for moral and ethical reasons but only went as far as pescetarianism for health reasons. “I try to avoid harming animals whenever I possibly can, but I found that it was very hard to be a strength-based athlete without seafood,” he said. “People often point to soy as a good alternative, but there are things in soy that work against me as well. I’m a big fan of animals, so pescetarianism offers a nice middle ground.” Kurnick is enthusiastic about the benefits of a pescetarian diet, saying that it’s possible to get everything you need, especially when supplementing with a multi-vitamin, and that it eliminates a harmful source of saturated fat. Describing his diet on campus, he said, “I think in general it’s pretty easy to be a pescetarian, but someone who needs as much protein as I do is bound to run into problems occasionally. Seafood and dairy are really my main sources of protein, but quinoa and beans are always pretty easy to find here as well.”
Flexitarianism is best defined as a vegetarian diet that occasionally includes meat, poultry, or fish. Lucy Rollins ’12 currently defines herself as a flexitarian. She has gone through many different phases of vegetarianism – from pescetarianism to raw-food veganism. “When I have the opportunity, I’ll eat local and humanely raised meat, not that I necessarily seek it out. I also eat fish on occasion,” she said. Rollins is off the Williams meal plan and instead has a CSA (a program of community supported agriculture, in which fruit and vegetables are delivered from a local farm) with the girls ehom she lives with. “During my time at Williams, I’ve realized how important it is to support local farmers and make every effort to bring food back to our community,” Rollins said. “The conventional production of meat is a huge burden on our planet, as well as the animals and people involved in the process. My reasons for eating the way I do are because of the environment, my personal health and the quality of lives of the animals and the people that raise and process them.”
Veganism is the strictest form of vegetarianism. It involves the removal of all animal products from one’s diet, including eggs and dairy. I talked to Lily Riopelle ’14, who became a vegan three years ago. Riopelle was a vegetarian for six months but then realized that her compassion for animals could be better served through veganism. “While I do realize there are sustainable sources of meat and meat products, it’s easier for me to just abstain from meat in general,” she said. Riopelle explained that veganism often guarantees a healthy diet because many vegan options are extremely healthy. Her diet also forces her to examine the ingredients in her food, so she is less likely to fall back on junk food. When I asked Riopelle if it was difficult to be vegan, she said, “It’s not so hard. If you’re someone who’s not picky within the realm of vegan food then it’s relatively easy. The vegan bar at Paresky always has lots of really good options. It’s harder to be healthy and not vegan at Williams, I think!” Riopelle added that becoming a vegan has changed the way she looks at the world: “Veganism makes you aware of your surroundings as a whole. You have to focus on food so carefully that you start noticing a lot of other details. I’ve become a more conscientious person because of my diet.”