Vegan, Vegetarian != Healthy

By Estefania Lahera ’20

Disclaimer: I am by no means against vegetarian or vegan diets. That’s every individual’s personal choice, whether for ethical or health reasons, and not my place to comment. I myself am quite fond of vegetables, and despite recent indulgences for the sake of my sanity Crave articles, I actually probably eat around 70-80% vegetables. I love vegetables. In fact, I might be considered a bit of a health nut. Which is why this issue I’m about to talk about is so upsetting.

Over the summer I attended a Harvard pre-orientation program, and unsurprisingly the schedule was jam packed. One day, we had a catered lunch from a local restaurant.

“Okay, line up over here for food,” the program coordinator instructed, and added, “the vegetarian option is along the back wall”

I surveyed my options:

Chow mein.

A weird flat noodle dish.

Fried rice.

Was that a stir fry? I couldn’t tell.

In summary:

Carbs on carbs on carbs. On grease. With a smidge of protein.

Great.

But perhaps the vegetarian options would offer me solace?

If only.

The vegetarian option was the exact same as the meat dishes, if you just swapped chicken (a sketchy, stringy chicken) for tofu. Considering that tofu is extremely absorbent, it might actually be worse.

This is a common dilemma I’ve encountered when attending catered events. I’m sick and tired of cold pizza, of fried and an abused salad (which is to say a salad overwhelmed by unhealthy additions).

Don’t get me wrong: I love to indulge. I love burgers and pizza and elaborate desserts, just not on the casual level. To me, those are treats, and should not be eaten during work or in a rush, only on special occasions.

And so it pains me that almost every time vegetarians and vegans are accommodated, but there are never any accommodations for straight up healthy food. I don’t mean fad diet healthy food, I mean common sense healthy food: vegetables and lean proteins with little if any grease, perhaps a minimally processed starch or carbohydrate. No preservatives, no MSG, no food colorings or chemical conditioners (check your bread labels… it’s there).  Organic would be nice too, but maybe that’s too far (even though it shouldn’t be).

This might sound elitist, spoiled, stuck up even.

But since when has eating healthy become a privilege of the upper class?

Why can’t everyone demand better quality food, and moreover, fight for it to be affordable? I understand that a major concern with healthy food is that it’s more expensive, but don’t tell me that companies like Kraft and Kellog and Kroger don’t have CEOs making extreme profits, who could probably all survive a pay cut that could trickle down and lower prices.

I don’t claim to have a solution, but for now I’m going to go with the assumption that everyone is entitled to healthy options.

So when you tell me my options are tofu soaked in grease, or chicken soaked in grease, I’m not happy.

Vegan diets, vegetarian diets can be great. They have every potential to be fulfilling and nutritious.

But sugar is vegan. Refined white flour is vegan. Speculoos cookie butter is vegan.

Pizza is vegetarian. Mac n cheese is vegetarian. Ice cream is vegetarian.

The problem is not the diet restrictions but the ways in which they can be misconstrued.

I had a friend a couple years ago who told me very seriously, “ I’m on a diet! I’m going vegan for a month.”

“Oh really?” I said, “how that’s working out for you?”

“Peanut butter sandwiches are my best friend,” she replied.

I didn’t have the heart to tell her that she probably wouldn’t be losing a significant amount of weight.

While I can’t say that peanut butter is unhealthy, per se, I can say that it’s extremely caloric, and too much is a bad idea, especially if you don’t vary your diet. Moreover, unfortunately the cheapest varieties or peanut butter and white bread are refined such that they are stripped of nutrients, and stuffed with sugar, preservatives, oils often derived from petroleum, and other creepy chemicals.

You might that that it’s different for vegans/vegetarians, because they might choose that diet for ethical reason, not just health reasons.

But guess what? I am too. I am ethically opposed to the corruption of the food industry, putting chemicals and other creepy additives in my food and expecting me to deal with it. That’s unethical, to trick the American public because they are too busy to read labels or can’t afford better, to have to settle for interior products.

And so while I realize that this post is unrealistic, that providing healthy options at catered functions is probably too expensive for complex reasons that are far too big for a college student, I long for the day that pure, wholesome, healthy food will be offered, and not just cold pizza.

 

 

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