SF State serves up a variety of dining options, but for students who are on restrictive diets, grabbing a meal on campus can be a challenge.
Not to be confused with “fad diets,” the short-term weight loss plans which enjoy fleeting popularity, restrictive diets are usually a long-term or even lifetime commitment for which motivations vary. Many people choose to eliminate various foods from their diet due to health concerns, allergies, personal or religious beliefs and environmental benefits.
Vegetarianism is a widely-followed restrictive diet, with Gallup’s 2012 Consumption Habits survey showing that 5 percent of Americans choose to eat meat-free. A further 2 percent follow a vegan, or plant-based diet, which eliminates all animal products including eggs and dairy.
SF State student Jackie Ho is president of the Health Education Students Association and has been a vegetarian for 16 months.
“Being a health education major you watch many different documentaries, and I watched ‘Food, Inc.,’” Ho said. “It got me. Right there and then I stopped eating meat.”
Ho says the biggest challenge has been access, since some restaurants still do not offer vegetarian options.
“It’s a growing process, but there are still certain restaurants I can’t go into,” he said.
As a vegetarian at SF State, Ho feels his needs are being met, with nearly every eatery offering meat-free alternatives. His personal favorite is Ike’s Place, located on the lower conference level of the Cesar Chavez Student Center. Ike’s offers a wide selection of vegetarian and vegan options, as well as optional gluten-free bread.
“We are very careful not to cross-contaminate,” general manager Patrick Manière said. “Especially with the gluten, because some people are very highly sensitive.”
According to the National Association of Celiac Awareness, an estimated 1-in-233 Americans have celiac disease. This amounts to roughly 128 SF State students. Celiac disease is a degenerative digestive disease activated by gluten consumption, and is a common cause for gluten elimination from the diet.
According to Manière, gluten-free requests are less common at Ike’s, but he estimates that 5-to-10 percent of the sandwiches ordered are vegan or vegetarian.
Non-vegetarians can be faced with dining challenges on campus as well. Nutrition and dietetics student Jamie Starzyk recently started meat again after following a vegan diet. She is very careful to investigate the source where her meat comes from, assuring that it is grass-fed, organic and free from antibiotics and hormones. After doing her research, Starzyk says she prefers to eat vegetarian on campus.
“I don’t eat any of the meat (at SF State),” she says. “It’s not sourced well.”
In spite of the many options, some students still express concerns over the nutritional value of these alternatives. Holistic health major Hannah Grasso has been a vegetarian for six years, prefers not to eat on campus.
“My main concern is that campus food is not actually nutritious and does not provide us with the sustained energy we need to get through our classes,” she said. “Whether you eat meat or not, a fresh and healthy meal is simply not available.”
Grasso says she would love to see a restaurant that makes fresh, organic food cooked to order, as well as a pressed juicery.
“I see that the school tries,” Grasso says, “but perhaps they are not bringing someone in who has this sort of dieting lifestyle and can make informed decisions about what students will want or need.”
In spite of its shortcomings, Starzyk admits that SF State has better options than any other school she has attended.
“Comparatively, I think San Francisco State is pretty high up there,” she said. “Overall, I don’t feel like there’s enough vegetables. There’s very solid vegetarian options, but I can tell that the sodium content is really really high, and there’s not really much organic, either.”