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Tofu: It’s What’s for Dinner

BU Vegetarian Society advocates eating less meat

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K. C. Mackey was standing on the sidewalk near Marsh Plaza, offering passers-by a warm smile and a Humane League brochure, whose cover featured two spotted piglets and a fuzzy chick. Some smiled back and grabbed a brochure. Others waved a dismissive hand or ignored her completely. In the course of a half hour, she had two conversations about animal rights and reducing meat consumption, both with friends. One changed the topic, the other said she is slowly cutting meat from her diet and switching from milk to soy products.

“It’s better to make slower changes than go all at once,” advised Mackey (CAS’13), who became a vegan eight months ago. “For me, I just can never go back.”

Mackey was among a handful of students, all of them members of the BU Vegetarian Society, passing out leaflets this particular day. Founded four years ago, the club aims to end animal cruelty, save the environment, and halt world hunger by promoting a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle. Members meet every other week, organize potlucks, and host events like last fall’s 10 Billion Lives Tour, where participants received $1 apiece from the Farm Animal Rights Movement to view a four-minute video about factory farm abuses. The society also protests organizations like the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus for its alleged abuse of elephants. And they invite speakers such as Gene Bauer, cofounder and president of Farm Sanctuary, and Zoe Weil, an educator at the Institute for Humane Education, to campus to discuss such issues as animal rights and ways to live a kinder and more compassionate life.

Last fall, the club hosted a talk by Breeze Harper, author of Sistah Vegan. Harper discussed the way a vegan diet can overcome sexism and racism.

Opting for a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle remains relatively rare in the United States. Only 5 percent of American adults consider themselves vegetarians and 2 percent vegans, according to a July 2012 Gallup poll. The survey also reported that single adults are more than twice as likely as married adults to be vegetarian and that women are more likely than men to opt for the lifestyle.

About 7 percent of BU students identify as vegetarian and another 3 percent as vegan, according to an annual Dining Services survey, which led Dining Services staff to meet with Vegetarian Society representatives to discuss their dietary preferences. Based on those conversations, Dining Services has made several changes to its menus and cooking practices, according to Sabrina Pashtan, Dining Services sustainability coordinator. Now tofu scrambles are available for breakfast at all dining halls. Nondairy or nonmeat soups and rice dishes are prepared with vegan stock. And salad bars have been rearranged so items like yogurt don’t splash into vegan staples like peanut butter. Employees even use different knives, pans, and utensils when cooking for vegan students. And because of the club’s advocacy, BU has converted to using cage-free eggs.

Boston University BU, Humane League, vegetarian vegan society, reduce meat consumption, sustainability, cruelty free

The BU Vegetarian Society passes out leaflets every week and creates its own brochures, like this one promoting a vegetarian or vegan diet.

Every vegetarian or vegan has a conversion tale. Rachel Atcheson (CAS’13), 2012–2013 Vegetarian Society president, was a high school senior when she learned about factory farms’ pollution, their alleged abuse of animals, and the health risks of eating meat that could be contaminated with salmonella or E. coli as a result of unclean slaughterhouse practices. “I had been a very long-haired hippie before that,” she says, but this newfound knowledge pushed her toward eliminating meat completely from her diet. Two months later, she went vegan, cutting out eggs and dairy products.

For club treasurer Victoria Brown (SAR’15), the choice to become vegan was the result of her growing concern for animal rights and her awareness of the health benefits of veganism—among them, lower cholesterol and blood pressure levels and a decreased risk for heart disease and cancer. She announced her decision to her mother three days before her 15th birthday. Instead of cake, she got a cantaloupe slice adorned with candles.

Another member, Robert Borgoño (CGS’13), says his decision is anchored in a concern for the environment, animal rights, and world hunger. Raising animals for meat requires significantly more land and water than does raising fruits and vegetables, he says. In fact, last year the Journal of Animal Science reported that it takes nearly 53 gallons of water, about 75 square feet of land for grazing and growing feed, and 1,036 Btus of fossil fuel energy—enough to power a microwave for 18 minutes—to produce a quarter pound hamburger.

Borgoño says some of his friends have forsworn meat because of factory farm worker abuse. Whether for the sake of humans or animals, he says, “I’m trying to reduce the amount of suffering that my life is causing.”

Some eco-conscious consumers are reluctant to completely eliminate meat, eggs, and dairy from their diets, choosing instead to buy items like grass-fed beef, cage-free eggs, and raw milk. That may be a first step toward wise eating, Brown says, but she “would challenge people not to get comfortable” with the idea that by doing that they’re accomplishing the same goals as vegetarians or vegans. And Atcheson warns that labeling can be deceptive. Free-range eggs, for example, may be laid by hens in battery cages outfitted with a seldom-used door to the outside. If consumers choose to buy meat, dairy, and eggs, she advises getting them directly from a trusted farmer.

Baby steps are key to successfully converting to a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle, club members say. They suggest starting with a Meatless Monday, reading about dietary options online, visiting a nutritionist to find out which foods provide necessary vitamins and minerals otherwise found in meat, dairy, and eggs, or attending one of their club meetings.

“Our goal is not to make everyone vegan or vegetarian,” says Borgoño, the club’s vice president, “but to reduce meat consumption.”

The BU Vegetarian Society meets every other Wednesday during the school year from 6:30 to 8 p.m. in the CAS Environmental Lounge, Room 442.

25 Comments
Leslie Friday, BU Today, Boston University
Leslie Friday

Leslie Friday can be reached at lfriday@bu.edu; follow her on Twitter at @lesliefriday.

25 Comments on Tofu: It’s What’s for Dinner

  • M on 11.01.2012 at 9:45 am

    Yay! You guys are awesome :) Happy World Vegan Day everyone! This article came out at the right time, seems like BU Today is doing their research. November is vegan month in case you don’t know.

  • gs on 11.01.2012 at 10:31 am

    While I agree with reducing meat consumption (and food consumption, in general, in this country), I don’t agree with promoting tofu, especially when over 90% of soy planted in the US is genetically engineered. Humans, the planet and animals are all better off if you eat a burger twice a week made of free-range, organic, grass-fed beef than any GM soy-based product. One of thousands of scientifically researched sources that demonstrate the harms of consuming GMOs: http://www.geneticroulettemovie.com

    • KC Mackey on 11.01.2012 at 11:30 am

      Dear GS,

      The number one cause of deforestation in the Amazon rainforest is meat – creating cattle grazing pastures and growing soybeans to feed to livestock. According to Mongobay.com: “60-70 percent of deforestation in the Amazon results from cattle ranches while the rest mostly results from small-scale subsistence agriculture. Despite the widespread press attention, large-scale farming (i.e. soybeans) currently contributes relatively little to total deforestation in the Amazon.” Even the relatively small amount of deforestation from soybeans is caused by animal agriculture; the soybeans are used as animal feed to produce meat for fast food chains and supermarkets in Europe. Because of a campaign by Greenpeace, there has been a moratorium on planting soy on newly-deforested Brazilian rainforest land since 2006. But despite the moratorium, soy farming still contributes to deforestation because land that might have been used for other types of agriculture is taken up by soy, causing cattle ranchers and other farmers to seek newly deforested land. This is yet another example of the inefficiency of animal agriculture; the solution is veganism.

      • gs on 11.01.2012 at 12:21 pm

        Thanks KC Mackey for adding more important information to my comment, but I am not defending large-scale farming or feeding cattle with soy. Be vegan if you like, but do not blindly promote the consumption of products made from soy, corn, canola, etc. which are genetically engineered. “Love trees, don’t kill animals” is a beautiful concept but it’s not a holistic solution to a complex problem. BU can make all the tofu scramble it wants but we’re still eating sick food.

    • GMO on 11.01.2012 at 12:00 pm

      I’m pretty sure that most studies and groups agree the GMO foods are safe.

      • Peter on 11.02.2012 at 10:49 am

        I’m sure that most short term industry funded research would only show positive outcomes. That is why we need more long term studies, such as the french GMO maize one. However flawed it might be it does raise concerns. Outcomes for livestock on long term non-GMO corn/soy are not so positive either.

    • Graham Boswell on 11.01.2012 at 2:50 pm

      GS, thank you so much for this comment- there’s a lot of good stuff for me to respond to and I just love talking about this issue.

      You seem pretty worried about GM soy, so I have good news for you. Given that 90% of the soy crop in the US is fed to livestock, it would stand to reason that if we stopped eating meat (and therefore stopped raising livestock), we wouldn’t need GM soy. So there’s a solution to the use of GM soy- veganism.

      You suggest that consuming less is a positive thing, and I agree. Consider, then, that it takes an average of 5,000 gallons of fresh water to produce one pound of meat, even that grass-fed beef you seem so eager about. Compare this to the 10-20 gallons that it takes to produce a pound of vegetables, fruit, soybeans, or grain. Clearly, the plant based choice requires way fewer resources. While water use is just one example, the same principle applies to other resources. When you cycle plant foods through livestock to produce meat, you end up with way fewer calories then you started with. If used to grow vegetables, grain, and/or legumes, one acre of land produces 10-15 times more protein than if used to produce meat. Thus, the number one way to reduce the amount of resources you as an individual use is to eat plants instead of animals.

      You assert that eating grass fed-beef is preferable to eating GM soy. Consider that, according to a study done by the World Bank and the World Watch Institute, livestock already makes up 51% of greenhouse emissions globally- way more than transportation or energy. Another study found that grass-fed cows produce 20% more greenhouse gasses than grain fed cow. Now, imagine what would happen if we didn’t decrease the amount of beef we consumed, but switched to all grass-fed beef. The amount of greenhouse gasses coming from livestock would increase tremendously and the planet would suffer even more. Grass-fed beef is not the solution.

      Like KC said, the best solution is veganism. If you look more closely at the numbers, you realize animal agriculture and the current demand for meat is the primary source of the problems in our food system. It’s a connection that most people aren’t willing to make because it means we need to eat a lot less meat, dairy, and eggs.

      As for tofu, non-GMO tofu is readily available. At Super 88, it costs $1.45 for 19 ounces. I’m not sure if the tofu in the dining halls in from GM soy or not. But what difference does it make? Way more GM soy and grain was needed to produce one pound of the meat that’s in the dining hall compared to one pound of tofu. So ya, eating plants in always the better choice.

      Like I said, I love discussing this topic, so please feel free to challenge me on anything here and keep the conversation going!

      • gs on 11.01.2012 at 4:14 pm

        So, what do you say about GM corn, canola, rice, and cotton seed oil? And soy is found in absolutely everything now. Read your labels.

        What profoundly bothers me about your and KC’s veganism discourse is how ideological and borderline cult-like it sounds. Your black and white thinking makes you unable to see that I’m not advocating for grass-fed beef per se, I’m simply trying to introduce another important way of looking at this argument. Eating vegan has some benefits but it does not stop Monsanto from poisoning the world’s food supply for profit.

        A few years back, American over-consumption of beef was cited as the leading source of heart disease. Chicken was touted as the solution. Look at where that got us. As you would likely agree, large-scale chicken farming is hardly something to be proud of. Are Americans healthier for eating more chicken than beef? Perhaps, but what about all the hormones and antibiotics? Should chicken proponents dying from cancer say: “What difference does it make? At least we’re not dying of heart disease!”

        That seems to be your argument about GMOs. You did say, “What difference does it make?”.

        Your arguments for veganism as the end all be all solution to everything sounds pretty close to religious fundamentalism. Stop wishing there was a way to go on with life, blissful and ignorant. “I eat vegan, therefore I do no harm” is not a better way of life, it’s a lazy way out of critical thinking.

        • Np on 11.01.2012 at 6:08 pm

          I don’t think it’s rational for any movement to see themselves as a solution to everything. Graham was saying veganism could be a solution to getting rid of genetically modified soy, which (obviously hypothetically) if you got rid of 90% of the demand, it has all the potential in the world to be.

          No one thinks in black and white here. Eating vegan doesn’t stop Monsanto. A consumer boycott doesn’t stop Monsanto. Buying organic doesn’t stop Monsanto. But each one of those things is a step. If we’re not even taking those steps because we don’t see our end goal as being attainable, then what are we doing? Why shouldn’t we push ourselves?

          To the chicken as a solution to beef argument, that’s hardly comparable. The USDA still needs to promote meat to function, so they promoted chicken. They would never promote more natural meat because it’s not really attainable on such a large scale that they need to be functional.

          No one sees their veganism as blissful and ignorant. It is absolutely not a final solution – but it’s sure as hell a great step in the right direction.

          • Np on 11.01.2012 at 10:58 pm

            Also as a follow up, the USDA would never EVER promote not eating meat, and most certainly not eating specifically free-range grass fed beef because that’s not how they make money! So of course they promoted chicken! It keeps people eating meat.

            And to add more, veganism is a window for a lot of people, specifically white middle class people, into a lot of other issues – including that of GMO’s! Don’t strike down an entire movement because some stupid rich white people do it for apolitical reasons.

            It’s not a cult or even a borderline one. It’s a movement of people educating themselves and making the best that they can of their privileges as informed consumers in a neo-liberal individualist first world, AND one where they recognize that individuals – including non-human animals – should not be oppressed.

  • CARNIVORE_1 on 11.01.2012 at 10:34 am

    Please leave the rest of us alone. I get it that you want to be a small little herbivores but some of us want to eat meat like our ancestors have for thousands of years, as opposed to breads and things from the past few hundred years. Do not push your radical ideas on us. If 3% don’t like the dining hall food get an apartment and chew your lettuce there don’t ruin it for the rest of us.

    • gs on 11.01.2012 at 10:52 am

      Sure, but your ancestors didn’t eat the kind of meat you are probably eating today. I don’t think our ancestors were splicing pig DNA and inserting E.coli bacteria and mouse DNA.

    • Gunita on 11.01.2012 at 11:02 am

      There is nothing radical about reducing meat consumption. Factory farming is a recent phenomenon, and the sheer amount of violence that goes into the manufacturing of your meat is simply something people must be aware of, in order to make informed choices. I’ve never forced my views on to anyone and I can say the same for all of my vegan friends at BU. PS. Regarding “thousands of years” you speak of, animal consumption has been consistently linked to higher rates of disease and as far back as ancient Egypt, efforts were made to reduce meat consumption for personal health reasons. Now, we extend that into the realm of ethics because the torture these animals experience is unprecedented.

      Relax, and remember nothing is being taken away from you.

    • KC Mackey on 11.01.2012 at 11:27 am

      CARNIVORE_1,

      We appreciate all feedback, even criticism. We need to ask ourselves: If the abuse “food animals” is so bad that we can’t even evaluate factory farms in the defense of meat eating, is it something we should be willing to support when we sit down to eat? These animals are abused because we pay people to abuse them when we buy meat, eggs, and dairy products. The only way to end their abuse is not to hide their suffering from the public, but rather to show it to as many people as possible, so we can each make an informed decision about whether or not we want to support such cruelty. I hope this helps. Please feel free to respond, or email me at kcm2188@gmail.com.

      Best,
      KC

    • Graham Boswell on 11.01.2012 at 2:51 pm

      “Please leave the rest of us alone.”

      Sounds like what the animals would say to human-kind if they could.

    • responder on 11.01.2012 at 2:52 pm

      we’re not “ruining” it for you or pushing our ideas on you. we’re just getting the word out there. you don’t have to read this, you don’t have to listen. but in the event that you do want to listen, this is what we have to say. that’s all. go ahead and eat your meat, just know where it comes from.

    • veggieguy on 11.01.2012 at 5:14 pm

      Didn’t “they” find evidence of farming by the Neanderthals? Maybe they were indeed trying to turn away from all the animal killing. How many meat eaters have actually killed an animal themselves for the purpose of eating it?

  • Gunita on 11.01.2012 at 10:58 am

    Marvelous article! I love how it touches upon why people go veg for so many different reasons. For concerned people out there, one of those reasons is bound to resonate. I’m also excited to try this tofu scramble I hear of….

  • Nathan on 11.02.2012 at 12:48 pm

    As a person with over 15 years vegetarian mostly vegan, I will not regularly associate with vegetarians. Over the years,I have met dozens of vegetarian fanatics and extremists without a sense of humor. They tend to be like Christians that way.

    I am not saying the student vegetarians at BU are fanatics. I don’t know. I do know that the Boston Vegetarian Society meeting I went to was over 35% fanatics.

    Being passionate can be a great thing. Forcing your passion on others is, IMO, unAmerican.

    Securing concessions from BU meal services seems like a wonderful thing for vegetarians and a reasonable accomodation from BU.

    Promoting vegetarianism to other students should be like promoting a religion – reasonable activity in small doses – unreasonable when it becomes too frequent, pushy or done with unwanted passion.

    • Robert Borgoño on 11.02.2012 at 5:57 pm

      I really don’t like being compared to a religious group since religious groups base their beliefs in their faith and faith alone. Followers of a religion have no factual or scientific evidence for the existence of God(s) or the afterlife. It’s all based on their unwavering faith that their God(s) really does exist.

      On the other hand, veg*ns, and environmentalists alike, base their beliefs in what we actually know to be true. We know that non-human animals are sentient and feel pain, we know that non-human animals are capable of love and emotion, we know that animal agriculture is in the top three biggest contributors to carbon dioxide emissions in the atmosphere, and we know that animal agriculture uses significantly more water and land than vegetables do. All of this information can be confirmed with a quick Google search.

      So, in conclusion, please, don’t compare me to a religious fanatic who denounces others for not believing in a God that may not even be real. The things we talk about aren’t based on blind faith, they’re based on reality and we can actually make a difference in our world and that’s why we promote veg*nism.

      I also would to like to apologize for anyone reading this who may be offended by what I’ve said about religion. I understand that for some people, faith is super important to their identity and culture, which by all means is totally awesome and I encourage you to do whatever feels right for you. In short, this isn’t meant to be an attack on your faith and I’m sorry if I’ve been insensitive.

      • K.O on 11.09.2012 at 9:51 pm

        Your suggestions are authoritarian by nature. Stay out of our stomachs.

  • Anonymous on 11.03.2012 at 3:41 pm

    Eat whatever you want. More meat for me.

  • K.O on 11.09.2012 at 9:41 pm

    “Harper will discuss the way a vegan diet can overcome sexism and racism.” What, what, what!? I could use a laugh to see how you relate eating animal products to sexism and racism. What a ludicrous connection. What a non-coincidence that vegan month is the same month as Thanksgiving. You’re just another group trying to control what other people put in their bodies. BU, please stand up for liberty and don’t force meatless monday down students’ throats anymore. We all deserve a choice but what this group is doing has crossed into fascism.

  • Anon on 11.10.2012 at 1:45 am

    I’m a Pescetarian in the US only. The hormones they pump into animals and vegetables give me horrible irritation. I break out and get rashes. At home I eat organic and home grown foods. I don’t think people should ‘cut meat out completely’ because of factory farming, you can just go to a local farmer and it’s much better. This is so you know the effort required to get your meat, not just packaged items on a shelf. That said, don’t cut out meat, just know where it comes from. The hormones they place in vegetables cause me irritation too, and soy is not the best replacement for a lot of people. As a person that prefers nutrition from food over supplements, I hate that my vegan friends have to pop out different supplements in the morning because they don’t get enough calcium. I’m not hating on anyone, you eat what you want, it’s your body.

  • SigChi on 11.21.2012 at 8:43 am

    i HATE tofu its so gross especially at marciano. it doesnt have protein in it too so all the veagans should relaly stop with the flyering. buff chick patty is where its at

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