Last summer, I felt isolated. Not because I lived on a 6-acre island in western Lake Erie for an internship, but because I was singled-out in the cafeteria for a personal choice I have made in my diet.
Now let me backtrack a little. Gibraltar Island is a small island offshore from South Bass Island in Lake Erie. It is most known for the fact that it is home to F.T. Stone Laboratory, the Ohio State University’s island campus and one of the area’s leading research institutions for freshwater biology.
Because the island is so small, it can only hold a single cafeteria, so daily food options are especially limited.
One night during dinner, I politely refused the hamburger entrée that the cook had selected, opting instead for a simple side of green beans.
“Are you a vegetarian?” the cafeteria worker asked me. “No,” I replied, “I just choose not to eat red meat.” She then uncovered some veggie burgers that were prepared for the strict vegetarians and offered one to me. I thanked her and proceeded to enjoy a well-rounded dinner.
The next day during lunch, an emphatic sign hung by the cook in the cafeteria read, “NOT EATING RED MEAT DOES NOT QUALIFY YOU FOR VEGETARIAN MEALS.” I felt attacked. I felt secluded.
I felt unwelcome to eat at the only place where food was offered to me. All because I have made a choice in my life, just as strict vegetarians and vegans have made a choice in their own lives.
To the cook who made me feel this way, these are the reasons why I choose not to eat red meat.
The first reason stems from a personal preference. Unlike many people who salivate over the thought of biting into a juicy piece of cow flesh, I have never felt such compulsions. In fact, I feel dizzy at the sight of blood. Watching the tiny, red trickles of oxygenated hemoglobin ooze out from a steak is enough to make me queasy and lightheaded. The smell of seared flesh and bubbling blood is even worse.
“Okay, so you’re just a picky eater.” Well, no. My second reason
holds the environment in mind. According to a report by the Environmental Working Group, meat production and processing generate both greenhouse gases and mass amounts of toxic manure and wastewater, substances that pollute groundwater, rivers, lakes and oceans.
More specifically, red meat, including lamb and beef, generate the most greenhouse gas emissions per kilo consumed at
39.3 and 27.1 kilos of CO2 equivalents, respectively. The emissions for beef are twice as much that of pork and four times as much as chicken. My decision not to consume red meat and contribute greenhouse gases to the atmosphere is an environmentally conscious decision.
My final reason for not consuming red meat is purely nutritional. Studies by Harvard Medical School showed a 13 percent increase in the risk of death for every serving of red meat consumed, cases that were often linked to cardiovascular diseases and cancer.
As previously stated, I am not a vegetarian. I substitute red meat with leaner protein options such as poultry and fish. These alterna- tives are generally much lower in choles- terol and saturated fat and therefore healthier overall.
So, there you have it: a list of reasons why I have chosen this
particular lifestyle to not eat red meat. And that is exactly what it is: a lifestyle.
Just as vegetarianism and veganism are practices recognized by the general public. I should not be alienated or selectively denied the right to a meal because of my lifestyle.
Now, I am not arguing that every food institution should strictly cater to the needs of my lifestyle. I was perfectly content that day in the cafeteria to sit down and eat my green beans. I am perfectly content to pass up the burgers at Mac for a salad. However, acknowledging that someone may practice different eating habits than most others and, in turn, making that individual feel accepted and comfortable is something that I think a lot of food establishments could benefit from.
There were a lot of days during my freshman year at Mac that I struggled to find balanced meals given the food options offered that day. The only options in the vegetarian line would be crunchy, undercooked rice and quesadillas that oozed copious amounts of grease.
However, I am finding that ONU is really increasing their efforts to appeal to people with different dietary needs with the new renovations and expansions of the cafeteria.
They have a line specifically for those with food allergies and a lot more vegetar- ian and vegan options. Grilled chicken is offered regularly. I have had little to no problems finding enough to eat during the times I have dined in the cafeteria this semester. I am thankful that ONU’s food services are adopting a model that practices acceptance and flexibility.
No one deserves to be isolated because of individual food practices and with the evolution of the ONU cafeteria, I have confidence that nobody will.