Alternative diets become more mainstream

Okay, St. Olaf, full journalistic honesty here: I don’t eat like a lot of you. I follow, with varying degrees of strictness, the “Paleo Diet,” which attempts to simulate what hunter-gatherer Paleolithic people would have eaten. This means no grains, no dairy, lots of vegetables, lots of meat, some fruit, nuts and starches and no beverages besides water.

Paleo is founded on the claim that humans have been genetically programmed to eat a certain way. Because genes are very slow-moving, humans have not adapted to the new foods that came with the rise of agriculture around 10,000 years ago.

I have been eating this way since sophomore year of college. However, because St. Olaf is a quaint, Midwestern, liberal arts college, people are bound to have a wide range of eating habits. Alternative diets are just part of life for most of us, even if we ourselves don’t subscribe to any particular methodology of eating.

Still, it seems like food is a more pervasive issue in our lives on campus than most of us believe. We economize our dining. We work our schedules around mealtimes. We make decisions, either conscious or otherwise, about what to eat and what not to eat. That last statement, especially, is a hot-button topic for many around campus, myself included.

Bon Appetit appears to be sensitive to dietary restrictions, helpfully informing the student body as to what has meat or animal products in the meals they prepare for us every day. But should we eat a certain way? What is it about alternative diets that make them so significant to us? Should we all go vegetarian? How about vegan? We need more than information. We need opinions.

In an effort to learn more about the vegan/veggie community at St. Olaf, I sat down with Josh Jacobson ’14, the leader of St. Olaf Alliance of Vegan and Vegetarian Individuals SAVVI. Our talk ranged from our own personal diets, to animal ethics, to the “trendiness” of alternative eating habits.

According to Jacobson, no vegan he knows of is vegan just to say they are vegan. The community is genuinely interested in health and the well-being of the environment. Coincidentally, the same topic came up recently in my Literature and Modern Philosophy class. Most students in my class knew someone who was only eating vegan or vegetarian to “stand out” from the majority. Who is right here? I can’t definitively say, but I know that more and more people at St. Olaf are throwing the USDA Food Pyramid out the window.

The vegans and the vegetarians are here to stay, whether they eat to be different or for more personal reasons. It has transcended “trendiness,” and alternative eating has almost become the norm. You can now safely navigate most restaurants if you are gluten-free, allergic to peanuts or have another dietary restriction. St. Olaf provides us with many delicious and creative foods from our lovely chefs and servers at Stav Hall.

In short, I am completely okay with the growing number of vegans and vegetarians on campus, even though my diet differs quite significantly from theirs. It is more than a fad. It is a movement; it is a cultural zeitgeist of people taking control over what they consume, and one that is largely revolutionary. And if there is anything that St. Olaf needs, it is a bit of fresh air. Or maybe just fresh vegetables.

Andrew Harris ’15 is from Minnetonka, Minn. He majors in English and political science.