“Technically I’m a lacto-pesca-ovotarian,” said Julia Boyer, a junior studying jewelry and metals at Millersville. Her well-researched decision to cut out poultry and mammals, Boyer said, stemmed from the knowledge of animal cruelty in the meat industry; “For me, it’s a sentience thing,” she said. Boyer is also interested in the economic impacts of vegetarian versus non-vegetarian diets: she cited the case of India, where most of the population is vegetarian for religious reasons. Because of population density and the fact that raising livestock is more resource- and land-intensive than growing vegetables, she said, if everyone there ate meat, the area would not have the natural resources to support the population’s nutritional needs.
This example shows that eating food is one of the most tangible and basic ways in which we relate to our environment. Many people try to cut out certain foods or ingredients in order to avoid supporting unhealthy industries or to refuse to give their economic consent to the methods of these industries. The U.S. government supports industrial agriculture by giving massive subsidies to producers, which is one reason why meat is so plentiful here.
The meat industry is incredibly dependent on the availability of cheap fossil fuels. According to Sustainatable.org, 33 percent of humanity’s contribution to climate change is a result of our current industrial food production system. Meat production is particularly energy-intensive because farmers use chemical fertilizers to grow vast amounts of corn and soy to make animal feed, which is its own commodity to be processed and transported long distances. According to Katie Anderson, a Truth-out.org columnist, production of cheap meat and animal products causes 18 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, more than the entire transportation sector. Eight times more fossil fuels and 200 times more water are required for the production of one pound of factory-farmed beef, versus one pound of fresh vegetables. This energy-inefficient system is endorsed by the federal government, which rewards industrial growers of corn and soy by subsidizing these crops.
As a result of the government’s high subsidization and under-regulation of industrial agriculture, meat can be raised cheaply and profitably though the industry’s practices are unsustainable. Also due to under-regulation of the food industry in general, consumers are eating unsafe food. The Center for Disease Control states that each year, 3,000 people in the U.S. die as a result of food-borne pathogens and 128,000 become so sick from pathogens that they have to be hospitalized.
“I’ve gotten food poisoning from school food three different times,” said Boyer, who finds MU Dining Services’ offerings to be severely lacking in healthfulness and variety. Since her arrival at Millersville, Boyer has been so unsatisfied by the nutritional value of the non-meat options in the school cafeteria that she supplements her diet with her own cooking that she brings, frozen, from home.
Gerry Shehan, associate director of MU Dining Services, said that Dining Services tries to satisfy all students’ nutritional needs while making a profit. “I would say we probably have 30-40 percent more vegetarian options than we did ten years ago. Back then, you could pick out the vegetarians from the rest of the students because they would be pale, their faces would be drawn: they weren’t getting enough protein.” Shehan went on to say, “We have to make a profit, so we do use a lot of processed foods.”
So is there no hope for the health-conscious in MU’s dining halls? “There’s the salad bar,” said Boyer. And Shehan, who emphasized his and his colleagues’ desire to get constructive feedback from students so they can fill in nutritional gaps, said that Dining Services has an in-house nutritionist, Lauren Trevisan, who can go through ingredient lists of everything that is served by the school and help any student, whether she be vegetarian, vegan, or gluten-averse, craft a balanced diet for herself.