Academic journal article College and University

Dietary Identities in Higher Education

Academic journal article College and University

Dietary Identities in Higher Education

Article excerpt

The results of a national study conducted in 2008 and corroborated by other recent studies (Humane Research Council 2005) suggest that 3.2 percent of American adults self-identify as vegetarian, with one-sixth of this number further distinguishing themselves as vegans or individuals who consume no animal products (Vegetarian Times 2008). An additional 10 percent of American adults in the study reported following a "vegetarian-inclined diet," and half of these individuals were "definitely interested in following a vegetarian-based diet in the future." Individuals who are members of these vegetarian and vegetarian-leaning communities are disproportionately young, with the highest rates found among teenagers (Vegetarian Resource Group 2005). This trend is apparent in a 2005 survey of 100,000 college students by Aramark, a food services provider to many U.S. higher education institutions, where nearly a quarter stated that "findingvegan meals on campus...was important to them."

Many vegetarians and the scholars who study them present two categories of motivation for the lifestyleethical and health reasons-which frequently overlap in the practitioner's decision-making process (Fox and Ward 2008; Jabs, Devine and Sobal 1998a). Ethical reasons derive from both religious and secular convictions. Commonly stemming from a sense of moral obligation as well as from dietary codes related to purity and health, strong traditions of vegetarianism exist in nearly all major world religions, with associated beliefs and practices central to these adherents' faith (Kemmerer 2011). In addition to or instead of faith-based rationales, many who maintain plant-based diets are motivated by beliefs about the ethics of animal use and suffering, the environmental impact of animal agriculture, the health effects of animal product consumption, and aesthetic aversion to animal products (Fox and Ward 2008; Maurer 2002; Rozin, Markwith and Stoess 1997). The implications of vegetarianism frequently extend beyond dietary preferences and nutritional goals, even to an adherent's sense of identity and morality (Jabs, Sobal and Devine 2000; Lindeman and Sirelius 2001; Willetts 1997). Indeed, Jabs, Sobal, and Devine (2000) note in their oft-cited study of vegetarian identity that "the majority of [their] vegetarian respondents reported that they 'were' vegetarian... [and] adopting a vegetarian diet led participants to develop a different view of themselves and a new relationship with the community in general and other vegetarians in particular."

Adherents of plant-based diets form a dedicated subset of the u.s. population, and as higher education continues to encourage diversity and to strive to meet the needs of minority populations, increased attention will need to be paid to students who identify with these communities. In many cases, such students must overcome systemic barriers in order to maintain lifestyles that are central to their identities. However, despite previous studies that focused on barriers to maintaining vegetarianism among general adult populations, little research has examined the specific barriers that confront vegetarian college students (Beardsworth and Keil 1992; Jabs, Devine and Sobal 1998b; Lea, Crawford and Worsley 2006). Drawing upon two sets of semi-structured interviews, this exploratory study investigates the unique challenges encountered by six vegetarian and vegan undergraduate students enrolled at a private southern university. This paper argues that higher education administrators must craft targeted policies-particularly pertaining to campus dining, housing, programming, and resources-to better accommodate vegetarian and vegan students.

CHALLENGES TO MAINTAINING VEGETARIAN AND VEGAN IDENTITIES

Because of their minority status in the United States, vegetarians and vegans must overcome systemic barriers to their lifestyle given a dominant culture ambivalent and often uneducated about adherents of plant-based diets. …

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