Can You be Vegetarian at YU?

By: Sarah Brill  |  December 20, 2020

By Sarah Brill, Science and Technology Editor 

Picture this: you are a vegetarian at Stern. You have just walked into the cafeteria for dinner and find that the main course meal consists of mystery meat. You then turn away and towards the soup wondering if you should have it for the third time that week. You walk towards the salad bar noting that the lettuce is wilted from the long day sitting out. Now you are either forced to order in food, eat in the dorm, or swallow some more soup. At this point, your stomach is only soup, so you go for that. Now it is Shabbat. You stay in with your friends but the meals quickly become a problem. With no places to eat out over Shabbat, and you cannot microwave your Trader Joe’s meal, you are forced to survive off of more soup, salad, and stale dessert. 

Tova Shmulewitz, SCW ‘22, stated “I have found it extraordinarily difficult to be a vegetarian at YU. From the caf I would eat only carbs, and other times I would spend money going elsewhere or microwave something in my dorm. Spending money outside adds up while also paying for the caf card. My second year was easier because I had a deluxe room with a kitchen and I could make myself proper meals. But now that I am back in the Brookdale standard room, it is becoming increasingly difficult due to both this factor and the COVID-19 situation. … In [the] 215 [cafeteria,]the main is always a fish so I can’t eat that, so I only eat the sides. … I feel like the food situation is very unhealthy and there are just not enough options. I think that Stern should provide either a kitchen for vegetarians, or change their meals to accommodate vegetarians. On occasion there are fake meat options, but the majority of the time there is not.”

An anonymous vegetarian Stern student, SCW ‘21, stated her experience “I was always watching people get Mexican food on TexMex night and I wanted there to be a Mexican vegetarian option. … I tried to be creative with my meals and made bagels and cream cheese a staple. My sister who is a vegan who graduated from YU would tell me that there was a vegan pretzel in the 215 caf that was good. You can be vegetarian at Stern, but it will be hard, but if you cycle through your food choices correctly, you can do it.”

I myself was a pescatarin for the year before I came to Stern. I thought I could maintain that lifestyle while at Stern. Unfortunately, I was wrong. I quickly transitioned back to meat as the options were limiting the Stern caf. I made the choice to become pescatrain for environmental reasons, with the hope that someday I would be either fully vegetarian or vegan. Now, living at home, I have transitioned back to my pescatarian lifestyle which supports both my choice of living and the environment. 

Shayna Herzage, SCW ‘21, said “Stern really doesn’t allow for enough resources for vegetarian  living. We are treated very much like an afterthought. Almost no mains are vegetarian-friendly in the caf, which is just annoying and it makes living off of the caf as a student hardly sustainable. I became a vegetarian when I was 17. … Personally I don’t feel everyone should be a vegetarian — but I want my lifestyle to be considered legitimate as a part of my value system that is worth sustaining, just like it is for omnivores. Going vegetarian as a YU student isn’t easy, but going vegetarian in general is never easy.” 

While being vegetarian at Stern is near impossible, vegetarianism has positive effects on both the environment and on your own personal carbon footprint. By replacing meat with vegetarian items such as tofu plant-based protein or nuts, the amount of carbon emitted into the atmosphere is reduced 2.5 times. Additionally, “[b]y eating vegetarian food for a year you could save the same amount of emissions as taking a small family car off the road for 6 months.” Vegetarianism has a positive impact on the environment. As a Jewish school, we should be striving towards Tikkun Olam, helping the world. By making the choice of being vegetarian, a Jew is helping contribute to Tikkun Olam so why isn’t Stern endorsing this idea and supporting students who make this choice? The vegetarian diet isn’t for everyone, but those who do want to pursue this type of diet, or similar diets such as veganism or pescetarianism, Stern should be allowing for that to happen by providing adequate meals and accommodations for those students.