Vegetarianism is a dietary commitment that has rooted itself in human history for more than a millennia. It was not, in fact, invented by the white guy with dreds and a guitar he can hardly play, or the blonde soccer mom named Karen who is petrified by the thought of GMOs, though they may lead you to believe it. It has been a serious lifestyle for billions of people for thousands of years. It has scientifically been proven to be a nutritious and sustainable way of life and has some serious health and environmental benefits. It is also a way for some religious groups to become closer to their god and empower each other. All in all, a generally common and healthy diet. So, one must then wonder why it is so difficult to find decent vegetarian food in many public schools, including Oswego East.
For many students who strive to sustain their diets, they find an uncompromising cafeteria with very little to choose from. Recently, when I gave meat up for an extended time for religious reasons, I realized just how unforgiving the lunchroom could be. It was stocked with burgers, chicken sandwiches, beef tacos, orange chicken, chicken nuggets, and more chicken. The three consistent and reliable vegetarian options provided are the salads, cheese pizza, and veggie sandwiches. Personally, I only find the cheese pizza to be appetizing as I dislike the mountain of iceberg lettuce as a salad and think the veggie to bread ratio far too low, especially without the ham. That leaves the pizza, which I admit to enjoying very much, though the scale in my bathroom disagrees. On an occasion, one may find a delicious plate of french toast sticks or bowl of meatless pasta, but their appearances are far too sporadic to depend on. Needless to say I began bringing my lunch for those months.
That raises the important issue at hand: why do families with dietary restrictions not get the same safety net that others do? It is a common thing for a student to forget her or his packed lunch at home, be too tired to make one, or simply wish for a hot meal, and so students buy the school lunches available. They are able to depend on a variety of options. As we’ve established, though, those options are far and few between for vegetarians, let alone vegans or otherwise. Another, more sad yet still common thing is that many families with children depend on school lunches to feed their children during the day. As a volunteer in the Northern Illinois Food Bank, I have met thousands of children from our area who rely on school lunches to function well throughout the day. These children should not be limited to the few repeated choices everyday but offered several healthy and enjoyable meals.
The benefits of eating vegetarian food is undeniable. Even without fully committing to the lifestyle, cutting meat out of a diet will almost always have positive effects. In 2018, the average American consumed 222 pounds of red meat in the year, equivalent to 2.4 hamburgers everyday, according to a study done by the USDA. This means that Americans are eating more than twice the meat they should be, and the consequences have manifested in rising obesity, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes, especially in children. According to the CDC, the rate of childhood obesity has more than tripled in 40 years. This epidemic may be disabled, though, through more conscious food decisions. An article published by Healthline.com states that “if everyone ate vegetarian, ⅓ of early deaths could be prevented.” That lofty estimate is in reality a tangible truth. Even just limiting the amount of meat we consume everyday could have significant positive impacts on our health and environment. Time.com states that “the widespread adoption of vegetarian and vegan diets could save millions of lives and trillion of dollars.” This is because livestock alone account for approximately 14% of all greenhouse gas emissions. The impact the meat industry has on the environment is monumental, and it is a simple fact that the widespread adoption of vegetarian habits would benefit everybody.
Now, this definitely does not mean that every student should go vegetarian. I sure couldn’t. I may have been able to make it a few months without meat, but the second I could, I had a huge steak and some bacon on the side. Though I have maintained my love for meat, I have recently become more conscious about what I eat and how much I eat of it. When I limited myself to vegetarian options, I found myself choosing to eat healthier and more filling foods. That concept has stuck with me and could be useful to many students at Oswego East.
Freshman health teacher, P.E. teacher, and nutrition expert Jill Albright agrees. “Most people may think that healthier items are more expensive to fund in schools, but this is not necessarily the case. If we work together with administration and the school cafeteria, we might be able to find something that helps all groups of students,” Albright said. When contacted for a response, administration was unable to comment.
All in all, vegetarianism is a dietary style that is beneficial to all. It has personal health and environmental benefits. It is easy to maintain when committed to and can be quite cheap. All it comes down to is our decision to make that change and take the action to make it possible.
Cecilia Cantu is a columnist for Oswego East High School’s online news magazine the Howl