TBG sat down with Environmental Studies and Agriscience freshman Leah Kelley to talk about the challenges and benefits of being a vegetarian.
Q: Why did you decide to become a vegetarian?
A: The initial reason was to lower my carbon footprint. Eating lower on the trophic level means that it takes less energy to produce the food that you’re making. If we were going to feed 1,000 people, you could feed them with grain or you could feed them with cow meat. It would take way more environmental detriment to feed them with beef because of the land that it takes and because of the greenhouse gases.
I do believe that the way we fill the animals that we serve as meals…chocking them full of different drugs to keep them from being sick. That can’t be beneficial to us and the hormones to make them grow faster…just the fact that cows are supposed to be grain-fed and they’re not.
Q: How long have you been a vegetarian?
A: For two years.
Q: Has being a vegetarian made any difference in the way you feel?
A: I think I generally feel healthier. I don’t know if that’s necessarily because I’m a vegetarian or because I eat a lot of vegetables.
Q: How hard is it to find something to eat at a restaurant?
A: It definitely depends on where I go. I feel like it tends to be that if I go to a restaurant that is ethnic, I can find something. But I think that in the American culture, meat is very prominent and so if I go to an American restaurant it’s usually pretty hard to find something to eat, which is unfortunate.
But it’s a good thing that I like ethnic food. I love Chipotle because I can just get the vegetarian burrito. And I also like the sandwiches at Potbelly’s. They have a vegetarian sandwich that’s got a lot of mushrooms on it and I’m a big mushroom fan.
I also am allergic to sesame seeds, which sometimes comes into factor from this because a lot of people [say], “Oh you’re vegetarian. You can have hummus and pita,” but tahini is sesame and that’s what’s in hummus. I would go to Woody’s because it usually is a good place for vegetarians, but I can’t have hummus and they put sesame on a lot of things.
Q: What challenges do you face when you eat in the cafeteria?
A: In Snyder- Phillips, in the Gallery, I can always find something. I try to make sure that I’m getting a complete protein. They always have black bean burgers, garden burgers and soy chicken at the grille. And there’s always salad, so I’m constantly able to get something if they don’t have another meal for it.
I lived in Hubbard Hall last semester and it was a little tougher there to get something that I wanted and that was vegetarian. I think you can always get something vegetarian but it’s just making sure you get the complete protein and that it’s something that you want to be eating.
I think I have more trouble with the combo exchange. I’m really busy a lot so I need to get combo exchange for a meal sometimes and the options that they have there for vegetarians are not very good. They have a vegetarian Mediterranean [wrap] that’s much less than delicious and the egg sandwiches are the same—really not good.
Q: Have you ever considered going vegan?
A: It was not my end goal when I started but I’m not opposed to the idea. We’ll see later in life if I’m in a position where I would be able to do that because it takes a lot of time and a lot of money to be vegan.
Q: How have you influenced others by going vegetarian?
A: My sister barely eats meat now. That could’ve been a choice she made on her own but she read a book about how humans weren’t designed to eat meat. She doesn’t eat red meat and she doesn’t make it. You eat meat and it stays in your system for about three days. Meat at that temperature for three days…that just doesn’t seem like a good thing.
Q: What’s your favorite vegetarian recipe?
A: My mom makes really great fajitas and we do home-make the salsa and it’s really delicious. I think my favorite part is the grilled vegetables. Grilled vegetables are amazing. The salsa is so full of flavor and the rice and black beans make a complete protein.
Q: Do you find it difficult to buy vegetarian items at the grocery store, like Boca Burgers, because they’re more expensive?
A: That is something that I would like to see change: the cost of vegetarian substitutes because I absolutely love Morning Star burgers. They’re delicious. It’s really frustrating how expensive they are. It’s nice that I can get them in the cafeteria because they are more expensive than some of the other things.
Mainly, I just go for the sale items and once you do get the food that you need for getting the substitute of protein, just ration. There is a Foods For Living [store] in East Lansing. It’s a lot like Whole Foods…it is more expensive but it’s a good place to go. They’ve got a lot of vegetarian items. I go in there and it’s like [an] overload of excitement for food.
Q: How do you fulfill your daily food requirements?
A: I’ve started taking B-12 vitamins as a supplement because that’s the one vitamin that vegetarians can’t get it [in] any of their substitutes, at least not in a viable form. I know that sometimes supplements aren’t the viable form also, but I feel like it’s better to take that than to not.
Q: What keeps you motivated on a daily basis to continue being a vegetarian?
A: This isn’t the only thing that keeps me motivated, but one of things is that I do have a lot of vegetarian friends. My roommate is vegetarian. I’m really involved in Greenpeace and whenever we have events…where we’re going to need food, I know that there’s going to be vegetarians there. It seems to be that lots of environmental activists are vegetarians, probably because of the same reasoning of the lowering your carbon imprint.
Q: Do you miss or crave any food that you can’t have now that you’re a vegetarian?
A: Sometimes I babysit the kids next door when I visit home. They would have…chicken nuggets in the shape of dinosaurs and I tried so hard to find…them and they don’t make them. I think that’s the one thing I miss.
Q: Did becoming a vegetarian require you to learn much more about nutrition?
A: I was figuring I’d just make sure I ate beans and rice because that makes a complete protein. My mom was really encouraging me to find more things, so I would buy tofu. She would not make anything with it because she doesn’t like tofu, so I would have to make something with the tofu. I generally eat healthy, so other than the protein factor, a lot of vegetarians just end up eating carbohydrates all of the time. I’ve tried to stay away from that and just eat vegetables. ..that’s what I eat most of the time.
Q: What advice would you offer people who want to become vegetarians but haven’t made the transition yet?
A: Do your research. Make sure that you’re reasons are correct and that you’re not just going off what someone told you in passing one day. Also, you can just try it out for a week and just see how you like it.
Click here to see how to make Leah’s favorite vegetarian recipe.
See the video below for Leah’s three things everyone should know before becoming a vegetarian.