When Cal State Fullerton student Megan Russell found out she was starting to get hyperglycemia – abnormally high blood sugar levels and a warning sign of prediabetes – she knew she had to do something about it.
“My skin was really bad, no matter how much red meat I ate, how much dairy I cut out, my iron levels still wouldn’t be balanced,” Russell said. “I needed to make a change in my life.”
Russell found that red meat was actually a suspect for what was putting her at risk. In fact, a 2012 study from the Harvard School of Public Health found that a daily serving of red meat increased the risk of adult-onset diabetes by 19 percent and processed red meat was associated with a 51 percent increase in risk.
Now the president of the Herbivore Club at CSUF, Russell shares her story with others in an effort to educate her peers on campus. The service club is a combination of compassionate vegans, vegetarians, health conscious flexitarians and curious meat eaters. Russell and Vice President D’lena Ochoa stress that the club welcomes all dietary lifestyles.
“Our club is open to anyone who even just has an interest. If you’re against animal cruelty, if you’re an environmentalist, if you’re a big health advocate, then our club will be able to relate to you,” Ochoa said.
The aim is to enlighten peers on vegan and vegetarian diets, not to pressure everyone to stop eating animal and animal products, Russell said. The club focuses on the awareness of three things: animal activism, environmentalism and health.
“It’s not even about specifically being hardcore vegan, cutting everything out, going and protesting and shaming people for the foods that they eat. It’s more an open resource for people to gain knowledge,” Russell said.
One of the Herbivore Club’s goals is to spread information on how factory farms affect the environment.
Studies have shown that animal agriculture is significantly damaging to the environment. Animal agriculture accounts for 37 percent of methane emissions, which has more than 20 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide, according to the Humane Society of the United States.
“Growing livestock feed in the U.S. alone requires 167 million pounds of pesticides and 17 billion pounds of nitrogen fertilizer each year across some 149 million acres of cropland,” according to the Environmental Working Group.
Although Russell said going “cold-tofu” benefited her health, other vegans choose a plant-based diet to oppose animal cruelty, like Ochoa.
“We are all born with that compassion. It’s society that strips it away and hides it and blocks it from us,” Ochoa said.
The club is currently working on a petition to remove the discounted tickets to Seaworld available in the Titan Student Union. So far, they have collected over 450 signatures and hope to see the tickets removed soon.
Ochoa and Russell also said they are happy to see more healthy options on campus become available to students and noticed a difference since they first came to CSUF.
“One of our members is living in the dorms, and he says that every meal there is at least one or two vegan options,” Russell said.
Students can also find vegan options in the bookstore and The Fresh Kitchen located inside the TSU. Six percent of the U.S. population now identifies as vegan, compared to one percent in 2014, according to a Top Trends in Prepared Foods 2017 report.
As a result of vegan activist groups and the rise in veganism, many vegan options are becoming available in local restaurants and supermarkets and making it easier for people to follow plant-based diets.
Although the Herbivore Club is a fairly new club, it has seen considerable growth in membership, making more projects on campus possible going forward. The leaders recommended any curious individuals to do research before planning to change their diets.
Ochoa said the reason many vegan diets fail is the lack of research on a nutritious plant-based diet. However, she encouraged people to reach out to the club for guidance if they would like to shift their eating habits.
“We want to show people how easy being vegan can be,” Ochoa said. “We want to be there for people if they have questions, if they have concerns, if they’re struggling, we want people to come to us.”