By Jenny Lai
I couldn’t believe my eyes. There I was, standing in the middle of the dining hall chaos at 6:30pm and frantically trying to figure out what to eat, when I noticed the vegan menu for the night: Turkey links and eggs.
Setting aside the fact that Crossroads Dining Hall was serving breakfast for dinner, I was quite duly confused. How does a vegan menu offer such blatantly “meaty” foods? Doesn’t vegan mean avoiding consumption of all animal products? And of course, that thought brought to mind other eating habits – vegetarianism, pescetarianism, or just general omnivorism. How does one discriminate between such labels and for what reason would those eating habits be attractive?
Tentatively grabbing a vegan turkey link, I sat down to my first taste of some of the different eating styles people experience, determined to learn more.
I call myself an omnivore. While I don’t eat anything and everything that is offered to me, I love freshly steamed vegetables as much as I love a really juicy, medium-rare steak served with a cranberry reduction sauce. I enjoy cookies baked with butter, eggs in the morning, and while I personally dislike the taste of milk, I can’t resist a yogurt parfait, or the creamy lather of Swiss cheese on crackers.
Before coming to Berkeley, I never put much thought into my eating habits. Food was always readily available and I had no problem deciding what I was in the mood for and how I would attain it. Discrimination regarding eating only certain animal products or no animal products at all was never something that I gave much thought to.
Everything changed after arriving on campus. Suddenly, I was facing a culture quite conscious about eating organically, sustainably, or ethically, and I made good friends who are devoted vegetarians, vegans, and exotic-sounding pescetarians.
My friend Lexie, who chuckled as I flaunted my paradoxical meal to the table, is a vegetarian. She doesn’t eat meat, poultry, or fish, but will eat animal byproducts such as milk, cheese, butter and yogurt. I asked her why she became a vegetarian, and promptly received, “I ate a chicken heart and afterwards I was horrified at myself.”
It wasn’t the most pleasant thing to think about, but many vegetarians, like Lexie, abstain from such animal meats because of moral or ethical reasons. Because vegetable products do not contain cholesterol, the vegetarian diet is also typically much lower in fats and cholesterol.
Lexie doesn’t find it difficult to stick to a vegetarian diet, but she did contend that some difficulties include finding good vegetarian restaurants and meal options, and making up for nutrients like protein that one would normally get from meat. Between bites of spaghetti, she announces, “Life is tough around Thanksgiving, and I hate salad, but the way I feel health-wise makes it worth it.”
I stabbed a “turkey” sausage onto my fork, promising to tell Sarah how it tasted. She’s a vegan and was munching on a carrot, debating whether or not to get a plate of the “turkey” links for herself. Starting in high school, Sarah became a vegan as a means to promote ethical treatment of animals and environmental issues, and was heavily influenced by the high prices of meat and movies such as “Food, Inc.”
Veganism promotes not only the elimination of all animal products and byproducts for ethical reasons like animal rights, but also environmental goals of revamping harmful animal agriculture and health-orientated goals that would reduce unhealthy animal fats and proteins that lead to issues like heart disease and obesity. To her, the only downsides are social ones, like being labeled a hippie or seeming rude when refusing certain foods. The high price of vegan foods is still worth it because of the healthy, conscious-free way she eats.
Next to me, Michelle watched intently as I brought the vegan turkey sausage to my mouth. She’s a pescetarian, and has been for years since both her parents are pescetarians too. While the pescetarian diet excludes any meat from land animals, it includes fish, mollusks, and crustaceans, plus fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and grains found in other diets. Often used as a transitional diet to vegetarianism, pescetarianism is also adopted as a means to eat and live in a more environmental, ethical and healthy way.
For Michelle, the pros and cons of being a pescetarian include less saturated fat, more healthy fat, but also the expensive cost of fish and quality assurance of the meat. While eating in this diet is already habitual, Michelle confesses that “a lot of people think [she’s] weird to just eat fish since so many hate seafood” and that “it’s not so worthwhile because even though fish is yummy, there are too many limitations with getting fish cheaply and freshly.”
I took a bite. The vegan turkey sausage, while not as juicy (or greasy) as normal meat sausages, was surprisingly good. Lexie, Sarah, and Michelle all beamed at me.
“We are going to have to take you to some fantastic restaurants in the Berkeley area now!”
“Cheeseboard on Shattuck serves a great vegetarian pizza!”
“Or how about Cha-ya and Herbivore on Shattuck, too?”
“Oh, definitely Udupi Palace for Indian!”
As I sat back listening to my friends jabber about the multitude of vegan and vegetarian-friendly restaurants in Berkeley, I realized I still wasn’t an expert on every eating style; after all, there’s the Paleolithic diet, fruitarianism, variations of vegetarianism, and more, but Berkeley is the best place to learn and experience new things and ideologies of eating. For someone who loves food as much as I do, that is definitely a good thing. So I took another bite.