Vegans have it rough in Cowtown

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    In the middle of October, Jonathan Combs, a senior graphic design major, vowed to go a month without eating any product that came from an animal.

    He agreed to be a vegan for a month as a part of a documentary film by TCU’s radio-TV-film students.

    Combs and many other vegans around Fort Worth said maintaining a vegan lifestyle in Cowtown is more difficult than it should be.

    “It’s probably harder than most other cities,” Combs said. “But for the most part you can find places that are willing to accommodate you even if they don’t know why.”

    In Texas, population 23,507,783, there are seven exclusively vegan restaurants, according to Janice Blue, host of a vegan radio show for KPFT-Houston.

    There is one in Fort Worth, Spiral Diner and Bakery, recently named the restaurant of the year by VegNews Magazine , and two are in Dallas.

    “This experience could have been a lot harder,” Combs said. “Thanks to Spiral Diner I was able to keep from starving and eat some really good food.”

    Spiral Diner owner Amy McNutt said the Dallas/Fort Worth area is one of the worst places for a vegan.

    “In pretty much every other major city it would be a lot easier to be a vegan than it is here,” McNutt said. “Typically you don’t find too many vegans out here so there are less vegan options.”

    Combs said the hardest part about being a vegan is the planning that goes into every meal.

    “Going from putting whatever in your mouth tastes good to having to actually think what and why you are eating – it is quite a difficult transition,” Combs said. “I definitely think that habit has stuck with me – thinking about the food that goes into me and where it comes from.”

    According to a national study conducted by the Vegetarian Resource Group, the demand for a meatless product in the U.S. is significantly higher than the supply for it.

    McNutt, who has been a vegan for eight years, said she sees evidence of the Dallas/Fort Worth area becoming more accommodating for vegetarians and vegans.

    “More Whole Foods are opening, and restaurants are opening that have full vegetarian sections on their menu,” McNutt said.

    Colleges and universities are leading the way in becoming more accommodating for non-meat eaters, according to the Vegetarian Resource Group study.

    According to the study, in some colleges more than 20 percent of students are eating vegetarian foods and, according to a nationwide survey by Aramark, a food service company, nearly 24 percent of college students said finding vegan meals on campus was important to them.

    Stephanie Dickerson, the nutrition counselor for TCU Dining Services, said there is always a vegetarian entree available at the main but not necessarily a vegan one.

    She said it has been “several years” since Dining Services has conducted a survey or poll to find out how many vegans and vegetarians are on campus.

    Dickerson provides nutrition counseling to TCU students and said she has been dealing with vegan students ever since she became the nutrition counselor.

    “In the cases I’ve seen, a lot of students have seen videos about the slaughtering of animals, and after they watch it, they won’t eat meat or they become a vegan,” Dickerson said. “A lot of people also do it for their health.”

    According to a report published by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the U.N., livestock use 30 percent of the earth’s entire land surface and 33 percent of the global arable land is used to produce feed for livestock.

    The report found that 70 percent of former forests in the Amazon have been turned over to grazing.

    “I initially went vegan for animal cruelty issues but then I started learning about how the factory farming industry worked,” McNutt said. “I had no idea it was so terrible. I learned there are a lot of major environmental benefits (in being a vegan).”

    The report also says the livestock industry produces 18 percent more greenhouse gas emissions than all methods of transportation combined.

    Senior ranch management major Kyle McCord said he has never had the desire to abstain from animal products.

    “I understand the reasons why people do it but personally I could never do it – I’d just be unhealthy,” McCord said. “I think one of the reasons God put animals on earth were for us to feed people.”

    Gina Hill, assistant professor of nutrition and director of the didactic program in dietetics, said that without proper planning, vegetarians and vegans run the risk of developing “serious nutritional deficiencies.”

    “The only way we get vitamin B12 naturally is through animals,” Hill said. “It’s also very difficult to get adequate iron and protein without consuming animal products.”

    Vitamin B12 is required to make red blood cells, which carry oxygen through the body. Vegans especially run the risk of developing a vitamin B12 deficiency, as well as an iron deficiency, both of which can lead to anemia causing one to feel weak and tired, according to WebMD.com.

    Hill said that because of the difficulty of getting an adequate amount of iron when abstaining from animal products, being a vegan can be especially unhealthy for pregnant women and teenagers.

    “If you have good planning and discipline in your diet you’ll be just fine,” Hill said. “I think vegans tend to be more morally driven than heath driven whereas vegetarians usually do it to be healthy.”

    Combs said he tried to prolong his veganism after the month was over but was unsuccessful.

    “It was a fun experiment and it definitely changed my perspective on the food I eat, but I have no desire to give up Oreos and milk,” Combs said. “It’s definitely made me understand that it’s not a cake walk and the people who do it have to be extremely committed to their cause.”

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