Vegetables/ Image: Victoria Shes/ Unsplash
Image: Victoria Shes/ Unsplash

The real cost of going veggie: navigating the challenges of vegetarianism as a student

After much thought, in the Summer of 2022, I made my most significant diet change and became a full-time vegetarian. My dad was very encouraging, having been vegetarian for the best part of the year. He praised how it had changed his life and been a progressive step in maintaining a healthier lifestyle. However, after spending my first year of university as a recently converted vegetarian, I decided to quit 14 months later. I wish my decision to quit had been more thoughtful. Honestly, it wasn’t – I woke up one morning and decided I’d had enough. Nevertheless, vegetarianism has taught me several important things, from trying a more plant-based diet to reducing your meat and fish consumption to protect the planet. However, I quickly became aware that being a vegetarian, while maintaining a student budget, was quite a complicated issue. It can be a different conversion for those at university.

By becoming vegetarian, I completely cut out my most significant source of iron

There are many reasons why people become vegetarian – whether it be personal reasons, climate, or the fact you weren’t really a big meat-eater. The motivation comes from many different places. In an article by Down to Earth, it is claimed that the most important thing a person can do to maintain good health and protect the environment is to ‘adopt a vegetarian diet’. Culture in the modern-day makes it much easier to sustain a vegetarian or vegan diet: almost every restaurant has a suitable and tasty plant-based alternative, with the University of Warwick itself voting to ‘adopt fully plant-based menus by 2027’. Plant-based diets are all the rage in popular culture, with your favourite stars, such as Billie Eilish and Lewis Hamilton, being pioneers of the plant-based world.

However, although vegetarianism and veganism are far more facilitated in the wider world, it is challenging, especially as a student. On a personal level, maintaining a completely vegetarian diet on a budget, became rather expensive, with many plant-based meat alternatives becoming a costly addition to my shopping basket. In the hopes of finding similar opinions whilst browsing articles, my opinion was quite the opposite of the widespread consensus, with studies finding that a vegetarian diet can reduce shopping costs by up to 31%. Perhaps it is me to blame. Shopping for yourself as a student takes various amounts of adjusting, but I found my vegetarianism to be a hindrance in practical terms rather than a benefit. However, I did enjoy becoming more creative with my food choices after cutting out quite a distinct source of protein.

Although becoming a full-time vegetarian did not work for me, I cannot state enough the importance of adopting a more plant-based diet

Amid my personal considerations about quitting vegetarianism, it is hard to not discuss issues I felt with the diet as a woman, mainly due to the prevalence of female iron deficiency among women my age. Notably, anaemia is a significant issue for menstruating adolescent women and girls, with the World Health Organisation suggesting ‘30% of women 15-49 years of age are affected by anaemia’. I had anaemia in my younger years, an issue I overcame rather quickly by taking regular iron supplements. However, by becoming vegetarian, I completely cut out my most significant source of iron, with various studies suggesting that your body cannot absorb iron from plant-based products as efficiently as meat. An article by the New Scientist indicates that ‘rising rates of vegetarianism and veganism may be causing iron deficiency’, a rather significant statement considering its already large prevalence amongst women. Although the effects of becoming vegetarianism were not strongly pronounced, I did find myself feeling less awake and agile, leading me to come to the conclusion I should really be eating iron-rich products regularly.

Although becoming a full-time vegetarian did not work for me, I cannot state enough the importance of adopting a more plant-based diet. Introducing more plant-based options into your diet can be highly beneficial for your health, bringing lots of healthy vitamins into your diet and even reducing the risk of certain diseases. Reducing your personal meat and fish consumption has equally positive effects on the environment, with a study by The Guardian suggesting that a low-meat diet produces ‘half the impact’ from greenhouse gas, water pollution and land usage. However, whilst adopting a permanent plant-based diet can have its personal benefits, I highly recommend obtaining a ‘flexitarian’ diet instead, as becoming a full-time vegetarian and vegan can prove far more complicated than it seems.


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