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Food Review: The Essential Vegetarian

By Katharyn Jeffreys
Staff Reporter

Welcome to the Essential Vegetarian, a new column focused on being vegetarian. Each week I will bring you recipes, restaurant reviews, and strange but true vegetarian facts. This week's column is just a brief introduction to vegetarianism, and to me, your faithful columnist.

Me first. I am a sophomore here at MIT studying Environmental Engineering and Literature. "What a load of tree huggin' hippy bullshit," you say. Well, maybe. But I think that vegetarianism is a good thing for many reasons.

I have been a vegetarian for over three years now. It was not hard to give up meat. I spent a summer eating very little meat, and when I came home, my mother served me a large, juicy steak. "Yum yum," you say. While this may have been appealing to me at one time, I just couldn't stomach the flesh. So from then on I was a veggie girl in a meat and potatoes household.

Since declaring my distaste for meat I have discovered many other reasons why being vegetarian is good. Aside from the obvious health benefits of eliminating fatty animal products from one's diet, vegetarianism has many environmental benefits.

Random Fact Number One: According to a study published this month by the USDA, a dairy cow produces over 20 tons of manure each year, and a meat cow produces about half that. This amounts to approximately five tons of manure for each American. That is a lot, considering the average American only produces about 80 pounds of the stuff.

Aside from the obvious aesthetic displeasure associated with feces, manure has important environmental impact when nutrients from it enter our water systems (some of which we then consume). Most of the water then travels to large bodies of water, causing fish to be killed.

"Isn't manure a fertilizer, and therefore good?"you ask. Yes, manure is in fact full of nutrients that in moderation helps plants grow. Unfortunately this concentration of phosphorus, nitrogen, etc., leaching into water supplies results in excessive growth and decay of algae. This in turn causes the depletion of dissolved oxygen in the water, or hypoxia, meaning that fish and other organisms cannot survive. In the Gulf of Mexico, the algae in the nutrient enriched waters have created a 7,000 square mile "dead zone" that can no longer support life.

One final reason to be vegetarian is the animal rights aspect. Animals raised for slaughter often live in unreasonable and unsanitary conditions. It is an unpleasant thought, indeed, to consider that your Big Mac once waded through a slop composed of blood, waste, and dirt on its way to slaughter.

On that happy note, I will now answer that question that I know you are asking, "What exactly is a vegetarian anyhow?" The proper, accepted definition is a person who consumes no animal flesh (meat). Yes fish are animals. So are chickens. So anyone who eats fish or poultry and calls themselves a vegetarian is in fact not one. But I would applaud their efforts to reduce meat consumption.

This is also the reason why I get slightly miffed at restaurants, such as Border Cafe in Harvard Square, who put fish on their vegetarian menu. If it once had fur, fins, feathers, or a face, it is NOTvegetarian!

Enough ranting for one week, Idon't want to scare all you readers away. If you have any questions about vegetarianism, or if you just want to yell at me, feel free to e-mail me (jeffreys@mit.edu) and I will answer your questions in this column. Next week I will have a more typical column filled with talk about vegetarian food, which I promise you will go far beyond lettuce.