Dear Vegetarians: Thanks for being Green

Green. Once just a color that populated your teas and eyeshadows, it’s now a rippling collective consciousness across the globe. You already knew that recycling and conserving resources help the environment, but are you aware that all vegetarians are automatically “green”? It’s not just the visual association of the hue to vegetables: new research has shown that consuming less meat decreases our carbon footprint.

In laymen’s terms, that means you’re helping protect our environment. Cows and sheep produce methane gases that contribute to global warming. Raising livestock takes up our resources—it takes more energy to feed and breed them.

Essentially, by being a vegetarian, you’re taking care of both yourself and our Earth. As the old adage goes, “You can’t love others until you love yourself.” Or something like that.

Just like being environmentally conscious has become more than just a trend, you should think of your switch to vegetarianism as more than just a diet. Like trends, diets come and go, and the fluctuation doesn’t look good in any way. Consider it a lifestyle change. But it’s not as easy as simply cutting out all red meat. Know these important facts:

While there are many debates over differentiating the types of vegetarians, 3 seem to be the most prevalent.

  • Pescatarian – the first part of this word, “pesca-”, is derived from the Latin root meaning fish. Of course, because you’re so vamped up for the SATs, you know I’m completely making that up. However, this label does refer to people who have cut out all meats except fish from their otherwise vegetarian diet. (Who can give up sushi? Really?) And for your information, “pesca-” means “peach.”
  • Lacto-Ovo Vegetarian – the most common type of vegetarians. These are the people who do not eat any meat products, but who will still eat eggs and drink milk. (Other variations of this include lacto-vegetarians who drink milk, but don’t eat eggs and ovo-vegetarians who eat eggs, but don’t drink milk.)
  • Vegan – a step up from a lacto-ovo vegetarian; a vegan will not eat anything that is even a by-product of an animal, including any dairy products, eggs, or honey.

A new category has also recently been coined and in 2003 was awarded as “Most Useful” in the American Dialect Society:

  • Flexitarian (Semi-Vegetarian) – those who eat mostly plants, but on occasion fluctuate back and forth to meat.

Be wary, however: just because you are not eating meat does not automatically mean you are eating healthier. Red meat in particular contributes nutrients to a healthy body that should be replaced properly. Eating nothing but bread and cheese is almost sure to do the opposite of your intended health goals.

Here is quick list of nutrients you should incorporate into your diet. Most, if not all, have vegan substitutes.

  • Calcium
    • Builds strong bones, as well as is essential for blood clotting
    • Can be found in milk, milk products, tofu, dried figs, prunes, pinto beans, dark leafy greens, broccoli, chickpeas and other legumes, calcium-fortified orange juice, soy and rice drinks, and cereals
  • Vitamin D
    • Helps your body absorb calcium and is good for your bones and teeth
    • Can be found in regular and soy milk, eggs, dairy products, calcium-fortified orange juice, and sunshine
  • Vitamin B2
    • Promotes energy release from carb, fats, and proteins
    • Can be found in all dairy products, riboflavin supplements, and taken with meals [Can’t the other things on this list (calcium, vitamin D, etc.) be taken with meals, too? Why is this specific to Vitamin B2? Just a thought…you don’t have to listen to me =) ]
  • Vitamin B12
    • Is an important factor of formatting red blood cells and helping your nervous system function properly
    • Can be found in dairy products, eggs, cereals, breads, and drinks with rice or soy
  • Iron
    • Prevents anemia and helps your metabolism
    • Can be found in dried beans, dried fruits, eggs, iron-enriched whole-grain breads and cereals, leafy green vegetables, nuts, seeds, garbanzo beans, raisins, tofu, and potato skins
  • Protein
    • Gives you energy and is good for building muscles and losing weight
    • Can be found in dairy products, tofu, dried beans, nuts, and eggs
  • Zinc
    • Is important for your immune system
    • Can be found in wheat germ, nuts, legumes, whole-grain cereals, pumpkin, and sunflower seeds

You can also take vitamin supplements if you do not feel that your daily diet includes all these essentials.

If the idea of suddenly cutting out most meat from your diet seems too drastic, take smaller steps, such as not eating meat two days out of the week. If that feels all right, try an entire week, then a longer time period.

Or, you can also start by first cutting out red meat, then slowly phasing out pork, then chicken, then fish if being pescatarian isn’t your ultimate goal.

If anything, the buddy system works! Challenge a friend to go meatless with you for a month. A growing number of college students have tried a month of vegetarianism at one point or another. If you are already in college, starting college, or planning to attend college, know that most university campuses provide a vast variety of foods that are meatless.