Oglethorpe Dining Commons has recently implemented new "tower gardens", which are self-watering, vertical aeroponic gardens that are used to grow food for the dining hall, such as parsley, cilantro, and romaine lettuce. (Photo/Caroline Barnes, http://carolinembarnes.wixsite.com/photography)

For vegetarians and vegans, starting college can be difficult. In addition to having to adjust to a new environment, they must search for foods that meet their dietary restrictions.

Thankfully, this is no problem at the University of Georgia as the university offers an impressive line-up of vegan and vegetarian options for students on the meal plan. This serves students of all backgrounds, who might have adopted these eating patterns recently or grown up in families and cultures where vegetarianism and veganism are long-held traditions.

As a vegetarian, I greatly appreciated the dining halls’ excellent variety of meatless foods during my freshman year. I became a vegetarian a short time before my senior year of high school. In truth, it was often not easy to find a wide-range of vegetarian options. There were few choices in the school cafeteria, and some restaurants only offered a couple vegetarian meals. However, those problems disappeared once I arrived at UGA.

I enjoyed the plentiful meatless and vegan choices provided by UGA Dining Services, a good mix of vegetarian options, including salads, sandwiches, soups, beans and desserts, making dietary restrictions feel less restrictive. In addition, the dining halls clearly mark all of their plant-based selections, making it easy to know what foods vegetarians and vegans can eat.

Even if you have not sworn off meat entirely, the university’s meatless offerings can help you. Health-conscious students can benefit from the multitude of plant-based meals to maintain a balanced diet. Many have heard of the “Freshman 15,” and data show that the majority of new college students gain some weight, including 9.3% of students who gained 15 pounds or more. Eating meals with healthier foods could help students avoid unwanted weight gain. According to the National Institutes of Health, high meat consumption led to more weight gain, whereas a higher consumption of vegetables resulted in weight loss.

A vegetarian diet could also help students interested in living more sustainably. The UN reports that meat agriculture contributes significantly to greenhouse gas emissions and global climate change. Students worried about their environmental impact can comfortably experiment with vegetarianism or at least limit their meat intake.

So if you are an incoming UGA student and are practicing veganism or vegetarianism, hoping to eat more sustainably, or simply trying to eat healthier, there is no need to worry about struggling to find a variety of meals. That’s one less thing you’ll have to worry about. How to deal with your roommate, on the other hand, is a different story entirely.

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