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Should You Try An Eco-Friendly Diet?: Vegetarians, Vegans, Raw Foodies and Freegans

Green/eco-friendly/tree-hugging/whatever-you-call-it living is a sustainable lifestyle that has hit popular culture in a big way and even extends to the way we eat. Vegetarians, vegans, raw food dieters, and freegans are considered eco-friendly lifestyles because of their potentially minimal effects on our surroundings. Never heard of a freegan? Don’t know the difference between vegetarians and vegans? We feel your confusion! Read on for the low-down on sustainable foodies to find out whether you want to want to hop on the environmental eating bandwagon.
The least extreme of the four lifestyles, vegetarians are those who do not eat meat, fish, or poultry. Instead, they eat fruits, vegetables, and grains to get their protein from alternative sources by pairing complementary proteins. These complementary proteins are usually a “grain and a bean” like red beans and rice. By combining these two food sources into a meal, all of the essential amino acids (ones that our body cannot make and we must eat) found in a complete protein like beef, are covered.
Vegetarianism can be a great and healthy diet (high in fruits and vegetables and low in saturated fat) as long as the person is knowledgeable about getting enough protein. A deficiency in protein can lead to weak and brittle hair or even anemia, which leaves you feeling weak. Her Campus writer Meagan Templeton-Lynch has been a vegetarian for a few years now. At age 16, she stopped eating red meat: “I would get sick thinking about eating an animal that was once living and breathing and feeling.”  At age 18, she became a complete vegetarian: “I don’t feel that humans have the inherent right to own and kill other creatures just because of the superiority of intelligence.” However, animal advocates aren’t the only ones to go vegetarian. Recent statistics by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization show that cows, pigs, and poultry are some of the biggest threats to our environment. Some problems include pollution of water resources and contribution to the Greenhouse Effect. Through a vegetarian diet, many feel they are helping our environment as well as their own health.
If you’ve been thinking about becoming a vegetarian, the first step you could take would be to participate in Meatless Mondays. People across the US and even restaurants and hospitals have joined in for health, economic, and environmental benefits. Cooking vegetarian once a week to start with may give you a better idea of where your diet would fall short in nutrients, or if you just need some great recipes to kick-start your vegetarian cooking. Remember, the internet is a great source of recipes!

Try this vegetarian recipe from VegCooking.com!:

Avocado Reuben

  • 2 slices rye or pumpernickel bread
  • Mustard
  • Thousand Island dressing (recipe follows)
  • 1/2 avocado, pitted, peeled, and mashed
  • 1/4 cup sauerkraut

Directions: Spread one slice of bread with some mustard, the other slice with Thousand Island dressing. Place the bread slices, dry side down, in a lightly oiled skillet. Top one slice with avocado, and the other with sauerkraut. Over medium heat, grill the sandwich until lightly browned and hot, about 5 minutes. Put the sandwich halves together and enjoy! ??Makes 1 sandwich

In addition to a vegetarian lifestyle, vegans do not use animal by-products like eggs, dairy, honey, leather, fur or cosmetics derived from an animal. So why go to the extreme? The answer lies in the ethics of the industry. “Some vegans feel that one promotes the meat industry by consuming eggs and dairy products. That is, once egg laying chickens are too old to be productive, they are often sold as meat,” according to the Vegetarian Resource Group. 

Nutritionally speaking, vegans are at a very high risk of vitamin, mineral and protein deficiencies, especially since there is no dairy, meat, or eggs in this diet. Planning is key! A good source of vegan protein could be quinoa, which is a complete protein, or oatmeal with soy milk, but you need to make sure you’re getting enough throughout the week.  Elizabeth Jarrard, a vegan Boston University student, chose to be a vegan for environmental reasons, but also because she “loves eating a plant-based diet” and the ability to focus on “what I include in my diet rather than what it excludes.” Vegans reap the benefits of a vegetable-based diet, but must be careful and plan ahead for maximum health benefits.  Sound like something you’re interested in? This is a great online resource to learn more about veganism and see if it’s right for you.

Try this vegan recipe from the Veggitable.com!

Asparagus Salad
6 servings

  •  ¼ C lemon juice
  • ¼ C olive oil
  • 20 kalamata olives
  • 1/3 C fresh mint
  • 1 ½ lbs steamed asparagus
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 1 small red onion
  • Salt and pepper

Directions: Whisk lemon juice, olive oil, chopped olives and mint. Chop the red pepper and asparagus along with the onion and toss with the whisked mixture.
Raw Food
The raw food craze has recently caught media attention with the release of a raw food documentary called “Supercharge Me,” the polar opposite of the McDonald’s-saturated “Supersize Me.” The main idea of a raw food diet is to eat plant-based foods in their natural state while maintaining a vegetarian or vegan palate. That means no cooking, heating, or baking, which they believe weakens the nutritional power of the food. But while overcooking vegetables can cause them to lose some nutrients, it can also be nutritionally beneficial to cook with other foods like tomatoes which release lycopene (check your ketchup bottle!) that are not as bio-available in their natural state. A raw food diet takes lots of preparation time, including peeling, cutting, and juicing to create a varied texture in meals. Sprouted seeds and wheatgrass are commonplace in the raw food diet while alcohol and caffeine are taboo, as WebMD puts it. To successfully live a raw food lifestyle, the American Dietetics Association suggests taking nutritional supplements, as researchers find those on this diet often have B 12 deficiency (which you get from meat).
A raw food diet can be full of times when you need to troubleshoot. This website is a good resource by and for people on a raw food diet.  One of the site’s best tools is its conversion chart, which helps you transition from cooked to raw food. For example, you are now eating white flours from corn, rice, or wheat. A better option would be quinoa or millet. They say the best option is sprouted grains, or even almond flour.

Try a raw food recipe from TheBestofRawFood.com!
Sprouted Bagel with Cold Smoked Salmon

Serves 4

  • Sprouted Bagel (i.e., Alvarado)?
  • Cold Smoked Salmon
  • Lettuce Leaf
  • Tomato Slice?
  • Onion, cut into rings

Directions: Take a bagel out of the freezer and put in the toaster. Spread with some raw coconut oil if you like. Put the lettuce leaf first. Then add one or more slices of smoked salmon and top with the tomato slice and onion rings. You may also add capers if you like.

Ever hear of FreeCycle.com where you can get rid of, or get stuff, for free? That’s part of a freegan lifestyle. As the New York Times reports, freegans are “scavengers of the developed world, living off consumer waste…to minimize the support of corporations...and their impact on the planet.”  Freegans do not buy anything, but rather pick through the trash of supermarkets or work with stores or restaurants to pick up surplus food free of charge. They are not specifically vegan or vegetarian. Their only “rule” is it must be free, not because they are “poor” as some people may think, but because they want to reduce their economic impact. A huge problem with a freegan diet is the unknown menu. If a freegan only found fruit and bread for a week straight, they would be in serious danger of possible malnutrition but most certainly of vitamin and mineral deficiencies. By refusing to purchase, it is crucial that they somehow find a varied diet that will incorporate all necessary nutrients into their life.
An additional problem is the possibility of food-borne illness depending on expiration of the product as well as the location in which it was found.  Freeganism can help the environment by keeping landfills from overflowing and reducing waste. A freegan diet, however, is the most nutritionally unstable of these eco diets. To get a taste of freeganism, think about all of the things you buy in a week and write them down. That means every coffee, DVD, and grocery item! You may find that you buy more than you think.
This author does not singly promote any of the above diets. A diet is a personal choice and while loving our planet is admirable, be sure you have talked with your doctor and dietitian before beginning any of these dietary changes. With the help of a health professional, you can help your body and your environment if you so choose!

The Vegetarian Resource Group, Vegans

NewScientist, Cows Pigs and Sheep-Environment’s Greatest Threats?

Web MD, Raw Food Diet

The New York Times, Freegans

VegCooking, Avocado Reuben

The Best of Raw Food, Sprouted Bagel with Salmon

The Veggitable, Asparagus Salad

Meagan Templeton-Lynch, HC writer

Carlene Helble is a senior dietetics major and family studies minor at James Madison University. She is the '10-'11 President of JMU's student dietetics association and the school's student council liaison to the American Dietetics Association. Carlene is also the weekend food blogger for All Access Internships and writes for Balanced Health and Nutrition, the Elite Nutrition blog. Originally from Loudoun County, Virginia, she has a passion for cooking (especially French Macarons), entertaining, pilates, and enjoying the beautiful outdoors. Classic fashions are her favorite and she never goes anywhere without a monogram. After graduation Carlene hopes to obtain a spot in a dietetic internship to learn more about clinical dietetics, pediatrics, and continue writing about food.
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