TAMPA–Students at the University of South Florida have worked diligently toward expanding vegetarian options at on-campus dining halls, and this summer that work pays off.
The July opening of the Southeast Student Dining Facility, also known as Champion’s Choice, will arrive two years after student petitioning led to USF Dining adopting its first vegetarian and vegan menu items.
In 2009, students worked with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and USF Dining to increase the existing vegetarian choices in campus dining halls. Later that year USF placed fifth in a PETA2 national college challenge and in early 2011 enacted “Meatless Mondays” in the dining halls. In 2010 construction began on the Southeast Student Dining Facility, a predominantly vegetarian dining hall created to give students and student-athletes healthier dining options. But with the dining hall opening in July, many students and faculty question how healthy the increasingly trendy vegetarian diet is for students.
Dr. Denise Edwards, assistant professor of medicine and pediatrics and director of the USF Healthy Weight Clinic, said there’s at least one major benefit of being a vegetarian.
“The major health benefit is that is does decrease the amount of saturated fats in the diet since it will cut down on animal fats,” she said. “Ideally it would push people more toward eating vegetables and whole grains.”
Jenna Burns, marketing manager for USF Dining Services, also said a vegetarian diet had many benefits to offer.
“Vegetarian diets are incredibly healthy when planned well to include a variety of fruit, vegetables, whole grains and legumes such as beans and lentils,” Burns said. “Calcium can be obtained from leafy greens such as kale and collard greens, as well as fortified foods like fruit juices, soy and rice milk and breakfast cereals…There really are no cons to a well planned vegan or vegetarian diet.”
USF Tampa already has three dining halls that offer salad bars, fresh fruit, and meatless options for students to choose from. When it becomes the fourth dining hall on campus, the Southeast Student Dining Facility will help broaden those options by substituting vegetarian and vegan ingredients in fresh meals.
“We are working to make more of the food options at Champion’s Choice friendly to vegetarians and vegans by adjusting the recipes, such as using olive oil instead of butter,” Burns said. “This will also make the recipes healthier. Since our dining halls serve food that is made directly in front of our customers, any item with meat can be modified to fit a vegan or vegetarian diet.”
USF Dining’s vegetarian streak is considered a healthy move according to one study. An April 2010 health study by Loma Linda University in California and the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden found that “Vegetarians and semi vegetarians had significantly lower levels of fasting blood glucose, total cholesterol, waist circumference and (body mass index) when compared to non-vegetarians.”
The study also found that vegetarians are less at risk for coronary artery disease, a stroke, adult-onset diabetes and obesity compared to meat-eaters.
The construction of the dining hall was timed alongside the construction of the improved student recreation center–but Burns said that doesn’t mean the food there is only for athletes.
“(The Southeast Dining Facility) will serve all students including athletes,” Burns said. “There are many vegan and vegetarian athletes across the scope of athletics from IronMan Champions such as Brendan Brazier to NBA basketball Players like John Salley. Most report major performance benefits such as more energy and quicker recovery time from consuming a plant based diet.”
“I wouldn’t point an athlete towards being a vegetarian, I don’t think it would give them much of a benefit,” Edwards said. “(Athletes) would not have access to many of the important vitamins and nutrients their bodies need.”
Vegetarianism may attribute to weight loss once people begin to stray from fatty foods, but Edwards says going vegetarian should not be seen as an effective method to lose weight.
“It should not be thought of as a way to eat in order to lose weight, which
I see often,” Edwards said. “It doesn’t mean you have to cut out animal products in order to lose weight. The thing that would help you with weight loss is cutting out saturated fats, but you can do that and not be completely vegetarian.”
But some students have already seen results. Sean Goss, a senior majoring in environmental science and policy, said that he’s already noticed the positive side-effects of a vegetarian diet.
Goss, who is not into athletics, said he first went vegetarian to get away from his fast-food lifestyle.
“Becoming a vegetarian helped me eat healthier,” Goss said. “I mean, I could drink beer, eat French fries and cake and still be a vegetarian, but I decided to go through with an entire lifestyle change. I’ve already lost a few pounds since I’ve stopped eating fast-food, and a lot of my friends decided to go vegetarian themselves to lose weight and save innocent animals.”
Even though many students may find the diet trendy, an uninformed commitment could be damaging to a person’s health according to Edwards.
“You can quickly become deficient in vitamin B12 which is best absorbed from animal products,” Edwards said of the diet. “You have to be very diligent about getting protein intake from other sources. (A vegetarian diet) can steer students towards a diet very high in sugar if you are not careful, a lot of pastas, rices and breads.”
Briana Myers, a sophomore pre-med student who is active in sports off-campus, said that veggie-curious diners should be educated before they eat.
“I hope that the new dining hall doesn’t just have the same side-dishes that they try to pass off as entrees, I hope they have real vegetarian choices for interested people to try,” Myers said. “I would never become a vegetarian because people are attempting to live off of a diet without the important vitamins and nutrients that they need.”
According to Burns, the food will be fresh and made “right in front of the customer” like other dining halls around campus.
While USF works hard to accommodate vegetarians, there will always be meat options in campus dining halls Burns said. Goss said he’s proud of his university as long as the accomodation continues.
“I think that vegetarian diets are trendy for a great reason,” Goss said. “The fact that USF has taken notice makes me love my school even more.”
After being sworn in Wednesday afternoon in the Marshall Student Center’s Oval Theater, incoming student body president Matthew Diaz, a junior majoring in political science and philosophy, said he was prepared to start working.
Diaz, who will receive a salary of $22,000, previously ran for vice president in 2010 alongside Andrew Cohen. In February, Diaz ran for president with Zachary Johnson with the idea that he called “TBM”—the Total Bull Movement. Diaz and Johnson won with more than 50 percent of the vote without a runoff.
Diaz said hiring is the top priority now that Hernandez’s staff is on the way out.
“Realistically, the first thing that we’re going to do is hiring,” Diaz said. “Hiring is going to be the main focus because until we get a staff together, we can’t really accomplish much. That’ll be one of our major priorities in the month of May.”
Out of several topics in his inaugural speech, Diaz spoke fervently about the rising cost of education, and also said he is eager to start working more with the Florida Student Association.
“I’ve already started a good relationship with the Florida Student Association, really speaking with those other presidents from the other 10 state and public universities, and I’m ready to start talking about next year,” Diaz said.
Diaz also explained how important it was to reach out to Gov. Rick Scott and Florida legislators.
“I think that’s a major priority, reaching out to [Scott]. It’s a major priority to reach out to him and to the Florida Legislature because ultimately, it’s those individuals who decide whether our educations dollars go up or down, and we have to work on that relationship with them.” Diaz said. “That’s something that I will be fighting for along with the Florida Student Association to make sure the student interest is heard, and that we’re put in the forefront of those legislatures.”
As a candidate
Although it would not count for the Guinness Book of World Records, outgoing student body president Cesar Hernandez wanted to shine a spotlight on USF and national issues, such as tuition increases and immigration laws.
Hernandez, a senior majoring in biomedical science, was initially interested in setting a new record. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez attained that record in 2007 in a live, almost nine-hour broadcast on his television show, Al Presidente. But unfortunately, according to Hernandez, there was not enough time or money to qualify for the Guinness Book of World Records. Hernandez said the organization required 400 euros and six weeks’ notice in advance to register the speech. But, Hernandez assured listeners that his speech could not wait.
“Well, I’m a college student, first of all. I don’t have 400 euros,” Hernandez said. “Second of all, the students can’t wait six weeks. This legislation is going on now. So, sorry Guinness World Records.”
In a press release from USF’s Student Government, the goal of Hernandez’s speech was clear: “What the movement is asking for is simple: Nationally: Do not cut federal summer financial aid for students; do not cut the educational budget; concentrate on a comprehensive bipartisan immigration reform. Statewide: Do not cut the state university system budget; say no to SB-2040; say yes to SB-318.”
Hernandez, who recently won top honors at a competition in Dubai for a presentation on American immigration policies, remained enthusiastic about equality as he spoke to students who had gathered to see him.
“We should look at it as us Americans and them inferior,” Hernandez said of illegal immigrants. “We should look at them as our brothers and our sisters also, and that’s what separates our generation from previous generations.”
While Chavez’s broadcast was littered with ramblings, jokes and commentary, Hernandez’s speech was well-versed. During the 24 hours, which ended at 11 a.m. Wednesday morning, Hernandez spent several hours reading A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn—but he was excited for the speech to end.
“Go Bulls!” he said, ending his speech on a high note.
While Hernandez’ speech was meant to attract national attention, local students had mixed opinions on it.
“I think it was a good effort and really shows so much dedication from Cesar Hernandez,” Cody Likavec, a senior majoring in statistics said. “He’s done a lot of work in his time as president, and it’s really impressive.”
Senior Kristin Johnson said Hernandez’s efforts were for the greater good, but she is not sure what the outcome will be.
“He has accomplished a lot, but a speech this long might just look like something pointless,” Johnson said. “Hopefully this will at least get the attention of people involved in local government.”
Despite empty seats in USF’s Student Government (SG) Senate, SG’s Supreme Court decided Wednesday night to rule against an Expedited Interim Election.
According to Senate statute 705.1.2, Senate “may not hold an Interim Election unless the total number of filled Senate seats falls below (85%) of the total number of allotted seats.”
Khalid Hassouneh, president pro tempore of the Senate, said that the Supreme Court made the ruling over concerns that the process described in statutes was no longer applicable to the situation. Hassouneh also explained that speeding up the process is necessary to adequately represent USF’s student body through the semester.
“I am still reviewing other possible methods in place within our current governing documents,” Hassouneh said, “and will be in consultations with our Attorney General as we explore other processes that would allow us to host an election for the purpose of filling these vacancies and appropriately representing our constituencies.”
The new senators will be voted in by the student body later this semester depending on the status of the process.
Best known only for handling the student body presidential elections in February, the Election Rules Commission (ERC) has remained busy since.
The ERC, headed by supervisor of elections Andrew Uhlir, recently finished attending to grievances filed by presidential candidates. With the election behind them, Uhlir said the ERC must focus on how to efficiently run future elections.
“Soon we will be doing the Title 7 ad hoc committee to make changes to the election process,” Uhlir said. “But we’re also looking into a special election for the referendum and Interim Senate elections.”
That referendum, which refers to the final vote on the green fee for USF, will be presented to students. Earlier this semester the Florida Board of Governors voted 3-2 in support of the Green Fee, which gives different USF campuses the right to create a fee allocated towards on-campus efficiency and sustainability. The interim Senate election remains tentatively scheduled until SG Senate can find a solution to expedite the process.