Over the last few years, plant-based diets like veganism and vegetarianism have surged into mainstream food culture with an emphasis on content and well-being, rather than focusing on weight loss.
BroncoFit assistant director MarLee Harris worked as a registered dietician for Boise State University Health Services before transferring to BroncoFit, where she works to create a more deliberate and ingrained food culture on campus that starts at an individual level.
“It’s OK to take time to nourish ourselves, because I will be a better student, a better friend and a better worker if I actually nourish myself,” Harris said. “It’s really important to remember that food can be a really good foundation for supporting a lot of our goals in life.”
Though food is not one of the eight dimensions of wellness that BroncoFit follows, Harris and many students recognize its ability to influence well-being.
Junior sociology and sustainability student Lydia Hernandez said her time at Boise State and away from home has allowed her to explore her options when it comes to food. Limiting her meat consumption has improved her health in many facets of life, she explained, in ways that medicine never worked. Growing up with eczema made her attentive to her body’s reactions, and changing her diet helped her body significantly.
“By tuning in to what my skin was manifesting, I was able to identify the foods that were no longer serving my body well and slowly began to follow a plant-based diet,” Hernandez said. “I never fully subscribed to the labeling of my eating habits, but simply ate what made me feel best.”
Pre-nursing and pre-radiology junior Hallie, who has asked that her last name not be used to protect her privacy, was vegan for several years, but only recently stopped using that label because of the many negative connotations associated with it.
Hallie said when she used the term “vegan,” people were judgmental and often misinformed in their assumptions about her diet and lifestyle.
“There is more merit to what I speak about when I have chosen to live my life in a certain way, rather than completely submit to a particular label,” she wrote in an email.
Sometimes, a diet’s labels apply certain limitations on people’s nutritional journey, according to Harris. Particularly in college, students juggle many different factors that impact what they can or want to eat.
“For some college students, maybe the money and the time to make certain foods for themselves can be really limiting,” Harris said. “I really do believe for every individual, there’s a healthy way to eat. We don’t have to have any way, shape or form or a one-size-fits-all approach to nutrition.”
One of the reasons for this, Harris explained, is that everyone has a different combination of reasons for limiting meat or animal product consumption. For centuries, some religions and spiritual groups have banned eating meat or particular animal products. Research and investigations in recent years have increased interest in animal welfare, the environmental impacts of animal production and health concerns in high meat diets, and students have been one of many groups to respond.
Hernandez identifies as Latinx, and said that as the vice president of the Inclusive Excellence Student Council (IESC), she has to constantly educate herself about how her diet can impact the people she also wants to advocate for.
“The fresh and organic strawberries I put in my oatmeal in the mornings might have been picked by farm workers who were not given fair, livable wages and under unlawful working conditions,” Hernandez said. “I have come to understand that a plant-based diet does not eliminate harm, but can actually perpetuate it.”
Only an estimated five percent of Boise State students get their recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables everyday, Harris said. While plant-based diets will not solve climate change or everyone’s dietary needs, they have started to create a change that could be a key to creating a culture where food is a cornerstone of well-being, not just a basic necessity.