by Gabriela Polanco
In 2009, only 1 million people in the United States–approximately 1 percent–reported being vegan or vegetarian. Today, that number has grown to 16 million, or around 5 percent. According to a 2011 Harris Interactive study, 33 percent of Americans eat less meat than they did seven years ago, even though they do not maintain vegan or vegetarian diets.
While the university offers a few vegetarian dining options, finding highly nutritious vegetarian and vegan meals can be challenging. This spring semester, freshman dietetics and nutrition major Stephanie Bird took it upon herself to change this by founding the Plant Based Society at FIU.
“When I became a vegan eight months ago, my friends expressed interest in veganism,” says Bird, “but felt it was an expensive and difficult lifestyle to maintain because there aren’t many vegan restaurants in Miami.” Bird’s mission is to help people understand that it is easy to keep a plant-based diet on a college budget, like finding premium fruits and vegetables at the local farmer’s market.
Bird also wanted to bring people together. “It can be hard for people to adopt a plant-based diet when their friends or families don’t support them,” she says. “I have seen people forming meaningful relationships with one another while sharing their stories and learning about how to adequately supplement their diets.”
Established in Spring 2016, the club has more than 100 members. “Our goal now is to reach out to as many people as possible,” she continues, “to clarify the myths and misconceptions about vegans, vegetarians and plant-based diets.” One such myth is the need for meat consumption to get enough protein and iron in the body.
The Plant Based Society, sponsored by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), holds general meetings twice a month, off-campus meetups at Vegan & Juice and other vegan restaurants, and tables frequently in GC. They are also canvassing for signatures to bring a restaurant with a fully vegan/vegetarian menu to FIU.
“While the club has encountered people who aren’t supportive of veganism/vegetarianism, my favorite part has been getting to know inspiring and open-minded people who share my passion for veganism,” Bird shares. “The American Marketing Association chapter at FIU has also partnered with us to promote our events on social media.”
“I became a vegan because I believe it’s the best way to help the environment,” says Bird, “but there are also many other reasons to do it, including wanting to be healthier and standing up for animals.”
Since the organization is new, their presence is stronger at MMC than BBC, but Bird recognizes the need for expansion. “There are no dues to join the club; the only membership requirement is having an open mind,” Bird quips.