Vegetarian Awareness Month a chance to try new options at cafe

Kirstin Cook, Editor-in-Chief

It’s a way to reduce your risk for cancer, heart disease, diabetes and obesity. It cuts back on air and water pollution, land use and climate change. It prevents the killing of cows, chickens and pigs.
These are just a few of the reasons to turn vegetarian, as listed on But when it comes to taking the step and making the change in our diets, there are obstacles in the way of cutting out meat altogether.
Alyssa Klinitski, a senior psychology major, first decided she wanted to become a vegetarian two years ago after watching a PETA video on chicken cruelty in the meat industry. But, her first attempts were unsuccessful.
“I tried going cold turkey – no pun intended – and it didn’t work,” Klinitski said.
But as of two months ago, Klinitski said she has been a full-fledged vegetarian, and she has noticed a huge difference.
“After about a month or two you notice your body feels better, you feel lighter and more fit,” Klinitski said.
With October being Vegetarian Awareness month, there’s no better time to take advantage of these health benefits. And with new options at the Wilkes Henry Student Center Dining Hall, it’s easier to make the switch and still have variety.
Wilkes Chef Brian Kaden said it’s not hard being a vegetarian while eating at the cafeteria on a regular basis.
“I don’t think it’s difficult at all,” Kaden said. “We really focus on having something available at every station.”
Kaden said he typically features three or four items at the vegetarian section, which is an expansion on the previous standard of maybe one item.
“When I first got here, we had the vegetarian section in the corner,” Kaden said. “It seemed like an afterthought. It didn’t look like anyone put much effort into it.”
Now, Kaden said the section is a focal point for vegetarians.
Besides the vegetarian section, there are meal options at the other cafeteria sections too.
There’s the full salad bar, of course, but that’s just the beginning.
Kaden said there’s a vegetable served at the Classics section every night. There are veggie burgers, grilled cheese sandwiches and cheese quesadillas at the Grill, egg salad sandwiches at the Deli.
He also tries to incorporate the Red Hot Chef and the International sections with things like the popular tropical stir fry or the fettuccini alfredo with broccoli.
For those who want to become vegetarian, Kaden suggested they survey the options at the cafeteria.
“I would just say look at all the options you have,” Kaden said. “Sometimes the thinking is that it’s boring food, it’s just vegetables and rice and potatoes, but there’s a lot of real cool things you can do with different ingredients.”
Along with trying different items at the cafeteria, Klinitski advised to try items from different store brands, like Morningstar Farms or Boca. This was how she found what she liked, and she came up with even more options by mixing foods together or seasoning meat substitutes as if they were meat.
“I started mixing in different vegetarian meats and found what I liked and what was delicious and how I can make it even more delicious,” Klinitski said.
Another tip that helped Klinitski transition is to start slowly. This is where Klinitski went wrong in her first attempt at becoming vegetarian. She said the successful approach was to first cut back meat items to one a day, and then scale back to only eating meat six days a week. She continued this process until her diet was meat-free.
Morningstar Farms, a major provider of meat substitutes, offers tips on going meatless on its website, and a gradual start is one of the first things the site suggests. It advises to start with familiar meals with meat components and using textured vegetable protein as a replacement.
To find out about these replacements, Kaden said it’s good to do some research.
“If someone’s looking to turn and go the vegetarian route, I highly encourage them to research exactly the products that are out there, come see what we’re doing, come talk to me,” Kaden said.
Talking to people is not only a good way to get advice, but also to get support during your transition. Klinitski said finding other vegetarians and getting people to hold you to the diet makes the difference for success or failure.
You can also clear up misconceptions about vegetarianism by talking to people. A few of the big ones include the ideas that vegetarians only eat vegetables, or that they can’t get enough protein.
But Kaden said those are invalid if you look at the variety of meals at the cafeteria and the high-protein options like soy product tempeh or wheat product seitan.
“It’s not just, throw some vegetables out there and throw some rice out there, we really try to incorporate things that are going to give a balanced diet, not just the simple stuff,” Kaden said.