Let’s get a bacon cheeseburger, but hold the bacon and the burger.

One class at Keene State College is having a large impact on its students.

Many students go in knowing little about the way food is produced and come out of the class a vegetarian. This class is Food, Health and the Environment, taught by Professor Robin Matathias.

Matathias has been teaching at KSC for the last 16 years and has been teaching the course for five years. Matathias teaches several different lessons throughout the course, but the one that sticks out as having the largest impact is the factory farming unit.

“I know after the factory farming unit, probably more than half at least cut way back if not eliminate [meat],” Matathias said.

Kian Stewart / Equinox Staff

Kian Stewart / Equinox Staff

This class runs through the Environmental Department. Matathias said the class has a strong environmental element.

According to Matathias, she uses food as the main topic. She explores how food affects both human and environmental health.

“The best way to eat to sustain the environment is also the best way to eat for our health,” Matathias said.

Not only does Matathias show the students what they could be eating on a vegetarian diet, she also brings in food for her students to try.

“I’m a big believer in not just telling people what they should be eating less of, but showing them what they should be eating more of, because you can tell people what they should eat but until they taste it they are not likely to go out and buy it,” Matathias said.

KSC junior, Cherie O’Clair did take Matathias’ food class, but it was not the reason she chose to stop eating meat.

O’Clair has been a vegetarian since her freshman year. She ultimately made the decision to give up meat after reading the book “Eating Animals.”

According to O’Clair, this book is similar to another book, “The Omnivore’s Dilemma.”

These books show both sides of the issue and why it is good and bad.

However, it was Matathias’ class that helped O’Clair choose a major.

“I took that class because I originally wanted to be an environmental major, but then taking the class kind of pushed more towards what I am doing now, which is nutrition,” O’Clair said.

Health Science major, Heather Fagan was placed in the Food, Health and the Environment class with Matathias two years ago.

“I didn’t voluntarily take it. I was undecided at the time, so the college just put me in that class and I just kept it. It changed my whole outlook on the food system in America,” Fagan said.

The class had such an impact on Fagan it not only steered her in the direction of her major, but also led her to become a vegetarian.

According to Fagan, she was a vegetarian for a little over a year. “Once she showed me how misconstrued everything is I realized I just didn’t want to eat meat anymore. I didn’t like the way it was being processed,” Fagan said.

There are many positive aspects in becoming a vegetarian according to Fagan, O’Clair and Matathias.

Matathias said the benefits of becoming a vegetarian are: feeling better, having a higher functioning metabolism, ingesting more “phytochemicals” which help fight cancer, as well as having a wider variety of food choices.

“You are going to expand your palate tremendously. People think ‘Oh I’m a vegetarian, what am I going to eat?’ but there are many more food choices in the plant kingdom than there are in the animal kingdom, so you’ll end up expanding your taste, not limiting it,” Matathias said.

Fagan said she had a better state of mind while being a vegetarian. Although there are many positives to becoming a vegetarian for her, there are also some negatives.

One reason Fagan ended her year long meatless diet was because it was affecting her health.

One of the cons of becoming a vegetarian is having issues obtaining enough protein and iron.

Fagan was in the early stages of becoming anemic. Anemia is a disease where the number of red blood cells are decreased. Anemia can be caused by low iron levels.

Fagan said once she found out she was starting to develop anemia, she began eating fish to bring her iron levels back up.

“I’m not anymore because I started eating meat again,” Fagan said. O’Clair on the other hand has been anemic since before she stopped eating meat.

“I was anemic before becoming a vegetarian so now it’s even harder to try to keep those up,” O’Clair said.

In order to give her body what it needs, O’Clair said she did make exceptions and only eats local, organic fish and eggs.

Matathias said there are many options for vegetarians to consume enough protein and iron without touching meat.

According to Matathias, whole grains, nuts, seeds and beans will all provide enough protein and iron, especially when combined. Another issue many college students face when becoming a vegetarian is being able to afford the diet.

Although Fagan is no longer a vegetarian, she still has the same views on meat as she did two years ago. “I wish I could afford it,” Fagan said.

Generally, meat costs are less than vegetables. According to Matathias, it is “artificially more expensive” because of payment made for the environmental effects. “There is something really wrong with the fact that a hamburger would be cheaper than a head of broccoli. It should be just the opposite,” Matathias said.

Matathias’ tricks to affording these seemingly expensive foods are to either buy them in bulk or buy straight from the farmer.

Vegetarian or not, Matathias’ goal in this class is not to push students to change their diet, but to educate them on the environmental issues caused.

“The food choices you make many times a day, everyday, have a huge environmental impact,” Matathias said.

Food, Health and the Environment is currently running this semester on Mondays and Wednesdays at 10 a.m. According to Matathias, the course will also be running this coming spring with two sessions available.


Shannon Flynn can be contacted at sflynn@keene-equinox.com

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