How about giving tofu and veggie burgers a try?
October is National Vegetarian Awareness Month and for vegetarians and vegans across the country, it is a time to celebrate a meat free diet and a lifestyle that contributes to a sustainable environment. Boston has worked to be conducive to the vegetarian lifestyle and is thriving with events, restaurants and organizations geared toward those who consider themselves vegetarian or vegan.
The Sustainable Business Network of Greater Boston kicked off Vegetarian Awareness Month on Oct. 1 with the second annual Boston Local Food Festival. Each year, this festival sells local produce and seafood from farmers and fisherman located in the New England area.
According to the company’s website, the objective of the festival is to “increase the availability and access of healthy food to urban communities” and “generate increased demand for local and sustainably produced food through education and promotion.” Vendors at the festival included Gloucester-based, vegetarian-friendly Turner’s Seafood and representatives of Asian restaurants that usually provide to vegetarian consumers, such as Mumbai Chopstix on Newbury Street.
Every Thursday afternoon, Boston University students can pursue an array of local farm stands selling produce at the Farmers Market outside the George Sherman Union. With over eight different stands selling a variety of vegetables, nuts and pastries, the farmers market can be an alternative for students to regular supermarket shopping during the fall months.
Will Finucane, employee at Ward’s Berry Farm, a local farm in Sharon, Mass. that sells vegetables at BU’s Farmer’s Market every week, said there are many benefits to buying from local markets rather than big name stores.
“The vegetables at a farmer’s market are definitely fresher,” Finucane said. “They are also cheaper than buying from the markets that BU students shop at.”
Finucane went on to stress how local farmers markets reduce the amount of fossil fuels that it requires to ship produce from a farm to a supermarket. And with over seven farmers markets in Boston alone, local residents are used to having their produce grown close to home.
College of Engineering sophomore Nick Taylor said that as a vegetarian, he sometimes purchases vegetables at the farmers market because a meat-free diet is harder to maintain through dining services at school.
“The vegan option is always good and there is a full salad bar,” said Taylor. “But I think that being a vegetarian at school is a lot less healthy when compared to the food my mom cooks for me at home.”
Sustainability and a desire to cut down on BU’s environmental impact are both factors that BU Dining Services has considered. The compost system in the GSU, implemented last year, is a prime example of this. BU Dining Services Director Scott Rosario said that BU also tries to buy food from local farms to reduce the university’s carbon footprint.
“BU purchases locally-grown and locally-processed food from 45 farms and 130 different producers of everything from milk, fruit, vegetables, to seafood, tofu and bread,” Rosario said. “We define local as anything situated within a 250 mile radius.”
According to the BU Dining Services’ website, over 95 percent of disposable products are compostable and BU reported that the university as a whole recycled over 1,120 tons of waste in 2010.
Through a new program called “Make a Difference Monday,” dining halls will offer more vegetarian options and locally grown produce on Mondays in order to reduce the school’s carbon footprint.
BU Dining Services has also begun to serve cage-free eggs this year in order to support the human treatment of animals. Over the past couple of weeks, the BU Vegetarian Society held a campus campaign in which they continued to advocate for the benefits of cage-free eggs.
College of Arts and Sciences senior and environmental science major Alex Nawrot said that while she is not a vegetarian herself, the sustainable benefits of vegetarianism are plentiful.
“Eating vegetables requires fewer steps on the food chain,” Nawrot said. “It’s more sustainable because by erasing the animal step of the chain, you are wasting less energy.”
Although Nawrot is a supporter of the local farmers market because of its positive environmental impact, she thinks that dining services could offer more vegetarian options.
“There should be more than one vegan option in the dining hall. And there is no one ever standing at the station to help serve people anyway,” she said.
Despite complaints like these, just this past year BU, ranked as one of the “Top 16 Vegetarian-Friendly Schools in America” by the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animal’s youth division. And according to its website, BU Dining Services said that 80 percent of the items on its residence menu cycle are vegetarian – this list includes vegan items such as hot dogs, salad dressing, cream cheese and smoothies.
When BU students are looking for a change from their normal cuisine options, they also have the chance to go into Boston to grab some vegetarian-friendly food.
Vegetarian or Bust
The Otherside Café on Newbury Street, a vegan-inspired restaurant, offers choices such as vegan cheese, “bacon” and “sausage.” The café’s manager Dan Venskus said that since its opening in 1992, the café has always catered toward vegetarian eaters. However, in Venskus’ opinion, a vegetarian diet does not necessarily mean a healthier diet.
“Certain food isn’t good just because its vegan or vegetarian,” Venskus said. “And health wise, I don’t think that eating meat is harmful.”
However, according to the article “Why Go Veg?” in the Oct. 4 Vegetarian Times, the benefits of a vegetarian diet are plentiful. A vegetarian’s diet can prevent heart disease and help maintain a healthy weight because of the absence of many saturated fats that come from meat, the article said.
Taking the step up from being vegetarian to vegan only adds to the benefits, the article continued. Because a vegan’s diet is completely free of animal and dairy products, it is normally cholesterol-free and high in fiber.
However, not everyone buys into the benefits that are said to come from having a vegetarian or vegan diet.
College of Arts and Sciences freshman Robert Hollis said that he had no concerns about meat.
“I really don’t like any other food groups but meat. I only eat meat,” Hollis said. “In my opinion, it’s a good diet for mass-building and there is an overpopulation of cows, anyway.”
Still, many non-vegetarian eaters are attracted to the vegetarian options in the dining hall and local restaurants. In fact, Venskus said that his favorite thing on the menu at The Otherside Café is the vegan “bacon,” regardless of the fact that he is not a vegetarian.
College of General Studies sophomore Mary Yatrousis said that she tends to buy more locally grown vegetables from the farmers market because fresh vegetables help with her allergies.
“At home, my mom tries to buy me only organic produce,” said Yatrousis. “It’s harder at school though because there are not enough organic or fresh options besides the farmers market.”