By Jacel Egan
John Rodino is an average male. He’s an English major at Marist, has travelled to Europe and loves hanging out with his friends. He used to eat meals that most people would consider normal; his diet included everything from meat to vegetables to the occasional candy bar. He was generally optimistic about life.
His mood changed, however, about a year ago after a trip to the doctor’s office.
“I was overweight with high cholesterol and heart trouble,” Rodino, a sophomore, said. “The doctor said I needed to change my diet or I would be headed towards heart disease. This was about a year ago, and I have been a vegetarian ever since. In August, last year, I decided to go all the way and become vegan.”
Like Rodino, the upsurge in health issues in the country has prompted many to change the way they eat.
Although there is less protein in a vegetarian and vegan diet, alternative sources for nutrients are easy to find, as protein can be found in nuts, tofu, soy, etc.
Not all vegetarian diets have to be as strict as the vegan diet, which restricts the consumption of all meat, dairy, and seafood. Some variations allow dairy, poultry and/or seafood to keep in one’s diet. Animal rights advocates are not necessarily the only ones that change the way they eat to this extreme; more so now than ever, many people alter their eating habits for health reasons.
Caitlin Nolan, a sophomore at Marist, has been pesca-vegetarian for about four years.
“I wanted to improve my health, and since then I feel more energized now that I’ve given up meat,” Nolan said. “I’m certainly aware that others don’t share my views, and I don’t judge others for their choices. I love when I’m asked about being vegetarian because then I can tell them my point of view.”
At Marist, the vegetarian and vegan population has grown, although the group is still relatively small compared to other schools. Regardless, Mohamad Charafeddine, General Manager of Campus Dining, says they are looking to provide more for those with special dietary needs.
Charafeddine and other Marist staff, newly inspired by the approaches they saw at the convention, decided to improve the selection of foods available for vegetarians and vegans. Adding to the recent move of separating the vegan station from the other meal sections in the dining hall, Charafeddine is ordering new meals to add to the vegetarian menu.
“Though the foods we saw were geared towards catering, I like taking the ideas with me to see how we can integrate it in retail and resident dining,” Charafeddine said. “We also want to implement regional and local produce with our new food options. I want to put into action the saying, ‘From farm to fork.'”
Since Marist bulk food services are provided through Sodexo, a popular international food company, changes to accommodate for varying dietary needs are being made in every sector.
“It works out that Sodexo sends all the schools under contract with a master menu list, and each school chooses a specific few,” Charafeddine said. “I know more vegetarian items are added to menus for higher education. In regards to secondary schools, I think they are gearing more towards the healthier foods, not necessarily vegetarian and vegan options.”
In the past, many students with special diet needs would submit requests and comments to Dining Services via comment card or appointment. Mindshare, a new survey system, will also be added to the list of venues by which users can voice feedback.
Much of the upcoming menu changes are in response to student comments on the current vegetarian food selection.
“The dining services, try as they may, are pretty limited,” Nolan said. “I eat fish so that also helped make my options more flexible, but I’ve only noticed that a greater range of foods were available during the holidays.”
“Only tofu dishes seem to be provided on occasion, but I haven’t found much in terms of nutritious plant-based dishes,” Rodino said.
Charafeddine comments that the “real challenge is the search for new ideas for vegetarian diets, not so much the cost or skill to get them at Marist.” He says more research is needed to adequately provide for vegetarian and vegan students, especially ones that he anticipates will take up the lifestyle in the near future.
Though that population at Marist is still in the minority, Rodino believes there is wiggle room for the group to expand as the trend catches on.
“I lost 30 pounds, my cholesterol dropped 30 percent, and my heart palpitations stopped,” Rodino said. “I have become very aware of the correlation between diet and disease, and once others see the same change and appreciation as I did, this lifestyle will grow in popularity I’m sure.”