Students try out vegetarian menu

Every Thursday a group of Langley Middle School students meet for lunch.

That may not seem unusual, but what is different is that these students are gathering for a vegetarian lunch. While their peers are dining on hamburgers or deli meat sandwiches, this group dines on menus of vegetarian stir fry with tofu, veggie dogs, or pasta salad made with soy salami.

These are the meals of the LMS Vegetarian Club.

Formed four years ago by home economics teacher Karen Jones, who is a vegetarian, the club meets once a week for adventures in vegetarian dining and to discuss nutrition and social and environmental issues related to vegetarian diets. Most of the club members are not vegetarians, but they all have in common a desire to learn more about it.

"The students are not usually vegetarians, but are curious about it," Jones said. "What happens is they will give up red meat first while continuing to eat poultry and fish."

Jones began the veggie lunch bunch with the idea of teaching students about nutrition and how to shop for healthy food. The meetings are informal and Jones says the only requirement for joining is that participants must have an open mind and be willing to learn about and taste new foods.

Between eight and 20 students meet for the weekly gastronomical event and all seem eager to learn more about vegetarian diets,

Motives for participation vary with each student. Some simply enjoy the companionship of other students, while others are interested in improving their diets or have environmental and humanitarian concerns related to eating meat.

Amanda Moore, a member of the club, expressed the concerns of several of the students.

"I don't like the way farm animals are treated, and I want to learn better, more healthy ways to eat," she said.

She said she is also motivated to learn more because her father is a vegetarian.

Hailey Way echoed Moore's humanitarian concerns.

"I don't like the way cows are treated, slaughtered for my food," she said. "I am learning about nutritional, alternative foods."

Katy Miln, who continues to eat chicken and turkey, is in the club for the good food and the camaraderie of the informal weekly lunch.

"It's just fun to get together and sample different types of foods with my friends," she said

Student Natasha Knowlton is one of just a few club members who plans to make the vegetarian lifestyle her own. Though she still eats chicken and turkey, she said she is cutting down on red meat.

"I am getting there," she said.

Students in the group are introduced to a variety of new foods and tastes.

Many, Jones said, are "amazed" to find they like the variety of tastes and textures vegetarian food has to offer. They also discover, along with the taste testing, that there are ways to substitute animal protein with plant proteins.

"They are amazed that they can have hot dogs and sloppy Joes without meat," Jones said.

Each Thursday, Jones prepares a different menu. Because the school's lunch period is only a half-hour long, meals are ready to eat when students walk in the door. Jones encourages parental participation and has had parents join the group for lunch from time to time.

The lunch group is a bit of a labor of love -- Jones does the shopping and cooking for the club herself and pays for most of the food herself. Though she wants to spread the word about vegetarian eating, she said she is glad the school lunch group has not become wildly popular. In terms of preparation time and expense, a big group would be too much to handle.

"If I had 80 students, the expense would be a concern," she said.

Jones teaches that variety is the key to a healthy vegetarian diet, or any diet, for that matter.

"Just as your parents should be concerned if their student only eats hamburgers, they should also worry if they only eat salads," she said.

A healthy, varied vegetarian diet, she said, includes fruits, vegetables, leafy greens, whole grain products, nuts, seeds and legumes. Some vegetarians also choose to eat dairy products and eggs. Cow's milk and lowfat cheese are good sources of calcium and protein. Beans, breads, cereals, nuts, peanut butter, tofu, and soy milk are also some foods that are especially good sources of protein.

Students interested in joining the LMS Vegetarian Club need only talk to Jones to get an invitation to sit at her lunch table.

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