A Taste of the Unexpected: An Omnivore’s Case for Vegetarianism

Cornell Ambassador Devin Hegelein isn’t one to shy away from trying something new. In fact, this semester he’s taking a break from the college town of Ithaca and exploring the city of Washington DC as a part of the Cornell in Washington Program. Look for an upcoming blog about his internship at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and how he met Cornell alumna and Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg! Until then, enjoy reading about his case for vegetarianism.

Devin Hegelein ’14

It started out as a joke, walking home from class with a friend—a passing comment about how ludicrous the idea of spending a week without even tasting the smallest bite of meat would be. As a proud omnivore for my entire life, I quickly dismissed the idea of being vegetarian as impossibly inconvenient. Surely being a vegetarian would require a lot more planning and consideration than I had time for, and the food would undoubtedly be bland and unexciting, right?

About a week after laughing off the idea, a story popped up on my Facebook news feed: Cornell was in the running for being one of the most vegan-friendly colleges in the nation. Nestled in the heart of Upstate New York was an oasis of natural foods, an alternative to the traditional college student staples of chicken wings and hamburgers, and I was living right in the middle of it. Suddenly, the idea of eschewing meats from daily intake didn’t seem like such a foreign idea after all. Maybe I should take advantage of attending a university that prides itself on its world-class dining. With Cornell among the best college campuses to be vegan, there isn’t a better place to go vegetarian for literally hundreds of miles, so I relented and committed to a week of meat-free food. After a final Sunday night meal of perfectly charred London broil, creamy scalloped potatoes with sweet honey ham, and crunchy green beans, I was ready to embark on my challenge to nix meat for an entire seven days.

I started by gathering some information on how to become a healthy vegetarian. Although Oreos, potato chips, and cheese pizza are technically vegetarian, something didn’t feel quite right about going on a junk food binge sans the meat. I perused the Internet, looking for vegetarian “super foods” and stumbled across the Vegetarian Diet Pyramid (the product of research done by professors at Cornell and Harvard no less). I left armed with enough knowledge of the vegetarian lifestyle to make this next seven days a truly rewarding experience both in taste and in self-control.

Monday began without a single thought to my newfound meatless lifestyle. Greek yogurt and a banana kept me full until lunch, where I planned to meet a friend at the One World Café, an a la carte eatery focused on serving only vegetarian and vegan dishes. Initially fearing that I would be limited to eating salad three times a day, I was pleasantly surprised to see a wide variety of sandwiches, soups, and more, all neatly labeled with a “Vn” (vegan) or “Vg” (vegetarian), signaling the meal’s contents to hungry patrons. I would soon come to realize that these symbols that I had routinely glossed over are actually present in all Cornell dining facilities, making the process of finding out what you can and cannot eat on a restricted diet as painless as possible. Acting on the advice of my friend who often frequented the One World Café, I opted for the Not Your Mama’s Hummus sandwich, while my friend decided on the slightly less adventurous mozzarella sandwich. The Not Your Mama’s was the perfect combination of fresh, leafy greens, crisp onions, thinly sliced tomatoes, and a generous spread of tangy, homemade hummus served between to two lightly toasted multi-grain pitas, all mainstays of a healthy vegetarian diet. The sandwich combined to form a truly filling meal with earthy undertones that left my stomach satisfied without sacrificing flavor. For dinner I chose to eat in the Carl Becker in-house all-you-care-to-eat dining hall, which offered any number of combinations of vegan and vegetarian friendly fare, all labeled with key ingredients that may cause problems, be it dairy, gluten, eggs, nuts, etc. I loaded up on leafy greens at the salad bar, a fixture at the Cornell dining hall, and then created my own vegetarian fajita, complete with vegetarian super food avocado. Still feeling a little hungry, I perused the soups (one of which is always vegetarian) and selected the creamy cheddar and broccoli soup, which rivaled Panera in its deliciousness, and ended the meal with an orange for the road.

I could go on describing each meal I ate for the next week in intimate detail, but that isn’t what this blog post is about. Instead, it’s about exploring foods you never thought you would try. At literally every dining facility at Cornell, the University offers a wide variety of delicious food suited to any diet. Be it a full dinner at one of the campus dining halls or a late night snack of quinoa and hearty vegetable chili at the library, Cornell makes the food selection process seamless. The greater Ithaca area also specializes in vegetarian and vegan fare, with the grocery cooperative GreenStar specifically catering to those who would prefer a meal without the meat. A thriving farmers market, on the banks of Cayuga Lake and just minutes away from campus, is filled with local vendors selling a plethora of fresh fruits and veggies and serves as another popular location to stock up on food for omnivores and herbivores alike. With multiple places to eat delicious and nutritious food in the Ithaca area, there is really no excuse to go hungry while being vegetarian or vegan here at Cornell.

While I have since decided to go back to my carnivorous ways, my week as a vegetarian was certainly a lesson in self-control and changed my outlook on how surprisingly palatable vegetarian dishes could be. Eating vegetarian on campus is easier than I ever expected and, truth be told, I was too preoccupied in exploring the numerous vegetarian dishes that I had originally written off as “weird” before trying to be a vegetarian that I (almost) didn’t crave meat at all. So once you get to Cornell, I encourage you to challenge yourself to try some new foods. This doesn’t mean you have to go meat-free, but take advantage of the opportunities afforded to you while you’re attending one of the most vegan-friendly colleges in the nation. I promise you won’t be disappointed.