Never have I ever…
A game not unfamiliar to many college parties. Everyone starts by holding up 10 fingers and each person takes turns saying something they have never done. If someone says something you have done, you put a finger down.
I’m pretty good at this game, for more reasons than one. However, I give most of the credit to my eating habits. It’s not often you come across a vegetarian in the College of Agriculture or Kansas State, let alone the Midwest.
Never have I ever had a hamburger. Or a steak. Or a piece of meatloaf.
If I had to guess, I would guess you just put three fingers down.
I have one more for you. Never have I ever gone to a College of Agriculture event — yes, I am an agricultural communications and journalism student — and been excited about the menu.
You read that right; I am a vegetarian student who is about to do what many said I could not do. I will graduate from the K-State College of Agriculture in 10 days and I am still a vegetarian.
The last bite of meat I tried, which was just before I started junior high, was a piece of chicken. Before that, I would pick at chicken — usually chicken nuggets — only because my parents made me, since they feared I had a lack of protein. I never liked red meat, for reasons I could only guess, but I was sometimes forced to eat it.
The last piece of red meat I had was a piece of ground beef my mom snuck into my cheese quesadilla when I was in fourth grade. I forgave her, but I did not forget. Sorry, Mom.
I like to think it is the texture of meat that makes me a vegetarian. That has always been my go-to answer when I am asked how I could be a vegetarian while studying agriculture.
“I’m not a vegetarian; I’m just a picky eater who happens to not like meat.”
I am not lying when I say I am a picky eater. I don’t like the texture of mashed potatoes, ricotta cheese or onions. So it would only make sense that this is the reason why I also don’t like meat.
It’s also the easiest answer.
Can you imagine telling a fellow agriculturist, or really anyone for that matter, “I do not eat meat because it upsets my stomach to think about what I would actually be eating if I had a hamburger or piece of chicken.”
A vegetarian in agriculture
While I wish I had the courage to explain to the people at a banquet celebrating farmers the truth about my eating habits, I know it is not something that would be well received.
So today, I dread when meals will be served at an event. Do I be honest about my eating habits and face the drilling of questions and the shock of those at my table? Do I quietly ask for a vegetarian plate and hope nobody notices? That is what I typically do, and it never fails that I am asked how and why I could be a vegetarian while being so involved in agriculture.
This is why I find it important to point out that I support all aspects of the agricultural industry, including livestock production. I am a 4-H and FFA alum who raised goats and rabbits for meat production, and I support all who do the same. I do not in any way advocate for people to become a vegetarian.
Rather, I encourage others to not judge people by what they choose to eat or not eat.
The kid’s menu
I’ll never forget the day my family and I went out to eat — I was in high school — and I did not like anything on the menu so I asked for a kids menu, which technically was for those ages 12 and under.
The waitress was kind enough to let me, as most are once I explain how picky I am, but my family was not as delighted.
My grandma’s exact words were, “You will not be able to make it through college eating from a kid’s menu. You will have to start liking real food.”
I understand where my grandma was coming from, and I write this because I know she was not the only one to think this way; she was just the first person to say it that way.
Pre-college and throughout my three years of college I have been asked more times than I can count how I survive as a vegetarian, why I do that to myself, if I will give it one more try and other questions along the same lines.
I understand their curiosity and concern, and I appreciate the opportunity to explain myself.
All food is agriculture
Whether someone chooses to eat organic, gluten free or conventional-raised food, they are still supporting some aspect of the food industry.
When I order off the kid’s menu, I am still supporting agriculture.
When I order a baked potato instead of a steak, I support the Idaho potato farmer. When I order a salad instead of a hamburger, I support the lettuce growers in my home state of California. When I eat too many rolls of bread because I don’t like anything else on the menu, I support the wheat farmers in the state I have grown to call my second home.
Here in Kansas, the top five agricultural products are cattle, wheat, corn, sorghum and soybeans. Four of the five are not livestock. And in California, the top-five valued commodities are dairy products, almonds, grapes, cattle and lettuce. Again, only one is in animal production.
I am no stranger to agriculture because I don’t eat meat. I know how marbling can make a good steak great, how all chicken is produced hormone free and why antibiotics are used on livestock.
I am proud to be a soon-to-be graduate of the College of Agriculture, and I am proud to know where my food comes from.
College has taught me more than the six varieties of wheat, the reproductive system of the different livestock species and how to write a news story.
The most valuable lessons I learned in college happened outside of the classroom. While sitting around a table, I learned who I best get along with. While writing in the newsroom, I learned what I want to do. While being challenged and supported, I learned who I am and who I hope to be.
And now — thanks to college — I am a little less embarrassed to ask for a kids menu.
Kaitlyn Alanis is a senior in agricultural communications and journalism. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Collegian. Please send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.