There are an estimated 375 million vegetarians in the world, which is roughly the population of the United States of America! With such a massive following, one would expect that the services to this particular demographic would be above and beyond. Sadly, this is not the case in most places. Although the opportunities and options for vegetarians have greatly increased in the preceding years, there is much more that could be done to meet the requirements of vegetarians.
Just like many other things, there is not only one type of vegetarian. Some include the consumption of dairy, eggs, fish or a combination. In my eyes, however, being vegetarian is not black and white, but a spectrum. Some people feel more comfortable including certain things in their diet, while others don't. To be fair, this uncertainty makes it incredibly hard for post-secondary institutions to meet everyone's needs when it comes to dietary restrictions. Nonetheless, the current system may need some improvement. Below are some of the biggest struggles I've faced as a vegetarian in my first year of university.
1. This Is It?
Coming from a vegetarian East Indian family, I've always had a tremendous assortment of great-tasting food at my disposal. I don't remember a time when my fridge wasn't overflowing with food. This all changed when I left home for university. The first time I went down to the cafeteria for a meal, I was initially surprised by the size of a meal compared to how expensive it was... until I took a bite. Yeah, still not that great...
All of a sudden, I found myself spending more and more time at the spice rack, experimenting with the array of different seasonings. Some of my favorites were lemon pepper, classic oregano and of course, chili flakes. I've also been a huge fan of Sriracha sauce my whole life, so it was no surprise that I had it with almost every meal to satiate my need for flavor.
All of my friends of more European descent would be in awe of the sheer redness of the food I was consuming, whereas all of my Asian friends would laugh and join me, sometimes even going to greater lengths to achieve the level of spice they're used to.
Pasta. Noodles. Rice. Fries. Potatoes. Pasta. Noodles. Rice. Fries. Potatoes.
Although at first, the options seemed abundant and full of opportunity, over time the menu quickly degraded into nothing but a schedule. I swear if I ever see poutine again (of course with veggie gravy), I'd have a heart attack by just looking at it.
It definitely was prevalent that the staff would try to mix it up with the dishes so you'd be able to get some variety, which was much appreciated. The only thing was, there would always be three to four times more non-vegetarian options. The thing about this is that non-vegetarians can eat vegetarian food, but not vice versa. In my eyes, it would be more effective if there would be another vegetarian option for both non-veg and vegetarians to enjoy.
A definite life saver at the University of Waterloo was the vast amount of restaurants within a close proximity to my dorm! Within a few minutes' walk, there was a Tim Hortons, Starbucks, Subway, Pita Pit and more ramen/Asian cuisine places than you could count! This option, however, wasn't very nice on the wallet.
3. Where is the protein?
As you could see from the above paragraphs, many of my meals were heavily carbohydrate loaded. This is a huge issue for someone like me, who is an athlete and enjoys going to the gym. Protein is an essential part of everyone's diet! Without it, there's no way for your body to repair itself or produce enzymes. I remember sometimes I'd look down at my plate and see some pasta, rice and a potato, covered in gravy, and think to myself, "Wow, OK, we have some carbs, some fat, some more carbs and oh, some more carbs." Eating all of these carbs were incredibly detrimental to my well being and heavily contributed to my freshman 15.
Luckily, there was often some sort of tofu or beans for dinner and lunch. Sometimes, however, there would be entire meals without protein. Even with the beans or tofu with the meals, my daily intake of protein was much lower than what it should have been.
Some ways I combated the lack of protein was to go to places like Pita Pit, where they had the spicy black bean pita. You could also add other great veggies like spinach and mushrooms, which also are nutritious and delicious. I also invested in some protein powder. Every morning before class I'd make a nice protein shake with milk, berries, bananas and protein powder, rather than going down to the cafeteria. Another one of my go-to snacks were nuts. I always had a pack of almonds or cashews within arm's reach!
4. The Restaurant Struggle
It doesn't feel too great to be a liability when it comes to eating out. As soon as I'd walk into any restaurant, my eyes would scan for anything compatible for my needs. All of a sudden, 95 percent of the menu was not available for me. Most restaurants only have about two or three vegetarian options, so it's honestly very hard to be picky. One of my sayings is that you can either be picky or be vegetarian, but it's very hard to do both. Luckily, most options can be transformed by substituting tofu for any meat products or just cutting the meat in general. This being said, it can often times feel too time-consuming or embarrassing to ask the waiter/waitress to make a completely custom meal for you.
Now, whenever I make plans to go out anywhere, I usually Google the restaurant and take a look at the menu beforehand so it makes it easier when I get there. I also try to go to more mainstream restaurants because they often times have more vegetarian options as well as more customizable menus.
So, is it worth it?
YES! It is totally worth it being vegetarian! Whether you do it for religious or personal reasons, being vegetarian is a great way to open your horizons and live a great lifestyle. Although there are many ups and downs, in the end, it is truly wonderful to be doing something not only great for yourself, but for the planet as well! In fact, vegetarian foods often only take a fraction of resources and time than that of animal products!
Sometimes people will give you trouble or tease you because of the lifestyle you're living, and my response to that is: Don't worry about it! Let them have their laughs because at the end of the day, you're doing something great. Also, if you're worried about always having to be the "liability" as talked about above, most of the time your friends are more than willing to go to places that accommodate to your dietary needs.
Although being vegetarian is awesome and it's cool to talk about how awesome it is, it is also necessary to respect other's beliefs as well. There is no need to berate others for choosing to eat animal products or meat, just because you don't. We must treat each other with dignity and respect because in the end, we're all humans regardless!
Lead Image Credit: Pixabay