Plant-based diets become more prominent at WHS


Divya Rajan

WHS food services staff member, Leanne Hough, prepares an assortment of pizzas with separate vegetarian and meat toppings.

Divya Rajan, News Editor

   New ideas and practices circulate around the world, some of them sparking high interest among people to the degree that they become trendy. In recent years, plant-based diets have become more popular and could even be considered a trend. Plant-based diets consist of mostly vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts, and whole grains as the main meal. 

   For numerous reasons people have shifted over to plant-based diets, including WHS students and faculty. People also practice vegetable-based diets across a range from eating a high amount of plants with small portions of meat, to choosing vegan diets, which contain no animal products. In addition to the varying degree of the diet, people practice the diet for a variety of reasons and benefits. 

   “One of the fun things about eating plant-based is that I’ve been introduced to new foods and recipes. I’ve always loved cooking, so becoming plant-based was a fun challenge and inspired me to expand my dietary horizons,”  sophomore Ava Tillman-Schwartz said. “The switch to eating plant-based has also encouraged me to think more about balance and nutrition as I have to make a conscious and deliberate effort to include enough sources of protein and other nutrients in my diet.”

   The school food services team has worked extensively with students to provide the best possible options for vegetarian students, and has even implemented new vegetarian options in prior years. 

   “We usually try to have a vegetarian option at the line. We have tried before Covid some of the beyond beef products, but they were not received well,” Howard said. We are always open to ideas from students too. If anyone asks us, we’ll do anything to accommodate,” high school food services manager Wendy Howard said. 

    Students following a plant-based diet have noticed that the lunch options for such diets have changed during the pandemic. 

   “Finding vegetarian lunch options at school was easier pre-Covid, but I’ve found that the choices are now far more minimal,” Tillman-Schwartz said. “While it’s not a huge hassle for me to bring my own lunch, it would be more convenient for the school to provide more vegetarian-friendly lunch options.”

   As many students who follow a plant-derived diet bring their own lunches, the cafeteria has had to find the balance between providing the correct amount of vegetarian food, due to lower demands. 

   “We have found that when we make separate vegetarian options, they don’t really go well. That’s why we don’t do a lot of it, because there’s not that big of a demand,” Howard said. “We were having meetings a couple years ago, pre-Covid, and one of the things we told the students was we’re happy to make these accommodations, but if we do, vegetarians have to show up and purchase them.” 

   In addition to students currently following a plant-based diet, plant-based diets have the potential to benefit all students. 

   “Some benefits I would bring up would be reduced inflammation and increased improvement in gut health, along with other health benefits that my doctor keeps telling me I’ll have,” sophomore Neha Pathi said. 

   As the trend toward vegetable-based diets has spread, the idea of these diets being treated as an equal diet compared to other diets, and not as a minority diet, has become more noticeable. 

   “While vegetarian salads are often an option, eating the same salad with the same three vegetables every day gets a little tiring. I think that it should be considered a necessity—not a luxury—for all students to have access to full and fulfilling meals that accommodate their dietary restrictions,” Tillman-Schwartz explained.

   Out of the many concerns about plant-based diets, taste can be a major question for people considering this diet, though students following a plant-derived diet can attest to the appealing taste of such diets. 

   “Taste has never been a concern for me. Maybe it’s because I grew up with Indian food in an Indian household, but the fragrances, spices and flavors that other substitutions can bring, in exchange for meat, has left me always satisfied and never wondering what meat could add to the dish,” Pathi said. 

      With new lunches being introduced to the school menu, possible alterations to incorporate more plant-based foods could be implemented, as resources expand with changes in the precautions for Covid. 

   “I think that there are some super realistic and easy changes that the high school could make in order to accomodate plant-based diets,” Tillman-Schwartz said. “A few might include bringing back the salad bar, offering plant-based soups or sandwiches as a side alternative, or” for example “offering normal alfredo alongside chicken alfredo, vegetable rice bowls alongside chicken rice bowls, etc.”

   With the school food services team introducing more plant-based lunches, students and faculty can expect an innovative menu for next year.