Saturday, November 7, 2009

DAY 5: Issues of Practicality

After this week, I feel like being a vegetarian and trying to eat sustainably is definitely a possibility for a UVA student. However, I didn’t eat on grounds at all this week (I don’t have a meal plan). Next week I will try to get someone to swipe me into the dining hall and see how that goes. As a student, you are only buying food for one, so splurging a little bit on a local or organic item is feasible. I came home this weekend and went out to lunch with my mom at the Happy Belly Deli, one of our favorite places. It’s located in the Roanoke Natural Foods Co-Op, so all the food is really fresh and they use local and organic ingredients. We got quesadillas, and each one was about $6. With drinks, the meal was $18, but since we only had to worry about the two of us, that wasn’t a big deal. I think it could get more difficult as a Charlottesville resident trying to feed a family with a couple of kids. Taking them out to Revolutionary Soup could get pretty expensive. And you definitely couldn’t get them organic granola at $4 and up a box. Reading the other guys’ posts, I also think it would be less practical to feed a growing boy solely with sustainable vegetarian food. They would need a lot of it to really be full.

What I have gotten from our class, and from my personal experience, is that individuals have to work out a food buying system that works for them personally based on their unique situations in life. There really is no blanket solution, that everyone should buy everything organically, or that we can all buy all of our vegetables locally. Each person’s diet has to start out as an experiment where you try different things and then slowly develop a realistic system. For me, being vegetarian works. I don’t miss eating meat and I feel better when I keep meat out of my diet. However, being vegan definitely does not work – I am not willing to cut eggs and milk products out of my diet. For someone else, that could be an easy sacrifice to make.

The difficulty of developing a sustainable diet is that it takes a lot of work. You have to be willing to do outside research into what all of these labels – organic, sustainable, no GMOs, etc. – mean and then develop a personal position as to which ones you think are most important. When you go to the grocery store, you can’t just pick up the cheapest thing of milk. You have to read the labels, and decide which organic brand you want, or if you’d rather choose the one with “cows not treated with rBGH” or if you want to pick the milk in the plastic bottle over the carton since the bottle is recyclable but the other is not. Personally, I have worked out which milk is best for me, but juice is a completely different story. Here’s the one I ended up choosing most recently:

But every time I go to buy juice I end up standing there for at least five minutes, wrestling with my mental struggle of whether it’s worth it to pay $5 for the organic juice, and trying to make sure I don’t end up with some gross juice cocktail on accident. And to get the products you want, sometimes you have to go to a specialty grocery store; Food Lion is definitely not going to provide many sustainable options. Additionally, when you go out to eat, or order food with a group, you have to decide whether you’re going to skew your standards or tell everyone that you have to order at least one pizza without meat. This is something really hard for me being in college. If someone invites me over for dinner, I often feel bad requesting that they make it vegetarian. And then once I get there, and they offer me soda with high fructose corn syrup, and sugar-free Jello that has God-knows-what in it, do I turn it down and be rude? Or eat it and accept their hospitality even though it’s against the food standards I have set up for myself? It’s a struggle that I still haven’t found a great solution to.

Personally, I feel that this extra investment is worth it though. I feel better mentally knowing that I am doing what I can to work against climate change by making sustainable food options, and that I am supporting my community when I buy locally. It also makes me feel better physically when I avoid processed foods and eat things with ingredients that I can pronounce. Really, I can literally tell a major difference in how I feel from last semester when I ate at Newcomb several times a week compared to this semester when I have avoided Newcomb like the plague.

Even though our project was only a week, I’ll keep updating the blog when I come across something noteworthy in the sustainable vegetarian department.

-Elizabeth, the vegetarian dieter

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