It’s said that the college-age years are the crux of a person’s development as an individual and for some, that exploration may include diet changes. On Dec. 2, the activist group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals wrote to Lincoln University president Dr. Ivory Nelson to say the Pennsylvania school should stop selling meat and dairy products on campus.
Vegan and vegetarian diets have grown in popularity for a number of reasons; but not all college-age people maintain those lifestyles, even after years of avoiding meat and dairy.
“It was an authenticity thing,” said Brett Marlow, a 2009 Columbia graduate, on why he started to eat meat again.
Marlow said he began eating only vegetarian food in response to his family’s high rate of obesity and heart disease. He also said that controlling his diet was part of how he rebelled as a teenager.
Eventually Marlow found himself “cheating” and eating pudding-filled doughnuts.
“I didn’t feel like I was being real to the vegetarian community,” Marlow said. “I felt like a fake.”
Lauren Raley, a senior journalism student at Columbia, said she also became a vegetarian, in what she considers “a family of total carnivores,” for health reasons.
“I became a vegetarian mainly because I had a lot of health problems and I thought that was the problem,” Raley said. “I tried a lot of different diets like no dairy, vegan, raw, low-carb, everything.”
Dr. Reed Mangels, a nutritionist for the Vegetarian Research Group, said vegetarian diets have been found to reduce the risk of heart disease.
“Vegetarians are potentially eating more fruits and vegetables but it still really depends on personal choices,” Mangels said.
Still, some people, such as Chicagoan Ira Cox, are influenced by things other than health when deciding to eat a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle.
For Cox, it was the music scene.
“Honestly, it’s not a simple decision,” Cox said of choosing his vegan lifestyle, which continued for nine years. “I was involved in the hardcore music scene when I was 15 or 16, and there is a very specific political and social component to that [scene].”
Cox explained that the ideas floating around the scene made the diet seem viable and unlike any other fad.
A life adventure forced Cox to reconsider his choice to be a vegan and he stressed it wasn’t a simple choice.
Cox said that he believes as people age and mature, it’s the gray areas of life that become more evident and decisions are no longer black and white.
Cox said that in his experience, as everyone must choose what they stand for, it becomes harder to say certain things are right or wrong, and choosing to eat meat again was a “very organic” experience.
During a 14-month bike trip with his wife, Cox said they accepted hospitality from different people they met along the way. He said he started the trip as a vegan, but psychologically and physically, his body needed more nutrition.
Cox also said that in avoiding dairy products, he felt he was forcing his culture upon the people who hosted him.
“It got to a point,” Cox said, “where someone offered me a place to sleep and dinner, and when they made spaghetti and meatballs, I decided to eat it.”
Cox said he was able to experience more culture by eating the food he was offered in a stranger’s home.
Other people, one person specifically, also influenced Raley to begin eating meat, after three years as a vegetarian.
“I started dating J.J., who ate meat all the time,” Raley said. “Eventually he talked me into eating a hamburger and I was back on the wagon.”
Raley said it was easy to begin eating meat again because she only eliminated it from her diet for health reasons.
“I was never a PETA person, I totally believe in the circle of life,” Raley said.
Marlow said his “coming home” to meat came after the realization that he wasn’t authentically concerned with the purposes of vegetarianism.
“I like to joke and say I ‘sold out,’” said Marlow, who was a self-proclaimed vegetarian policeman and made a habit of making sure other vegetarians stayed in their boundaries.
Marlow said he has not yet gained back the nearly 30 pounds he lost when initially becoming a vegetarian.
Raley and Cox, on the other hand, have both gained some weight since beginning to eat meat and dairy products, but they say it is for the better.
“I am pretty happy with my decision,” Raley said. “Now when I have a vegetarian dish, it just feels empty without meat.”