By Arianna Puopolo

Caitlin Ferguson, first-year Merrill student, is frustrated with the limitation of vegan food in the dining halls and is concerned with the inefficiency of vegan food labels.

“When food is mislabeled as vegan or not labeled at all, especially in the dining hall where the ingredients or nutritional label is not at hand, it can be inconvenient and frustrating,” Ferguson said.

Veganism promotes a lifestyle in which a person’s diet excludes any products derived from animals such as meat, poultry, and fish. This also includes all animal byproducts, including milk, cheese, and eggs.

Ferguson, who has been vegan for six years, has noticed a dramatic difference in her health since she cut meat and dairy from her diet, including clearer skin and a strengthened immune system.

Before becoming a vegan, Ferguson considered many factors including environmental awareness, animal rights and health concerns before making the lifestyle change.

“Being a vegan is an all-encompassing beneficial lifestyle to animals and the environment,” she said.

While Ferguson appreciates the health benefits of being a vegan, she also warns against certain risks associated with a vegan diet including becoming a “junk-food vegan,” which is a person who limits their diet to eating unhealthy, over-processed foods like potato chips and Oreos.

While grocery stores and restaurants in Santa Cruz like New Leaf and Saturn Café offer a variety of healthy vegan foods, UCSC dining halls also provides students and faculty with vegan options.

According to Fernando Ruis, the Crown/Merrill dining hall shift manager, all campus dining halls offer a variety of meal options that adhere to students’ dietary needs.

Ruis said that the dining halls offer vegan choices during the week, though there are fewer options during weekends due to the lack of student demand.

He encourages students to suggest changes in the dining options by completing dining hall comment cards and online surveys. He said, “If you really want to see something different [in the dining halls], all it takes is your input.”

Nancy Jackson, the dietician at the UCSC Health Center, also voiced her concerns about students overconsuming processed foods. She said, “[Becoming] vegan or vegetarian shouldn’t make [students] feel like they can eat whatever they want to.”

For those students considering becoming vegan, Jackson emphasizes the importance of being open to various plant sources for protein and vitamins. She said that students should be aware of the risk for Vitamin B12, D and Calcium deficiencies that are associated with vegan diets.

In order to get the same nutrients as a non-vegan, Jackson said that vegans should consume more than three meals a day. To get the same amount of protein in three ounces of meat, a vegan would have to eat over twenty ounces of soy.

Before making the commitment to becoming vegan, Jackson encourages students to be well-informed about risks and benefits associated with being vegan. She said, “[Students] should really research, so they know what’s going to create a good, healthy diet.”