Have your soy cake and eat it too

Hippies, tree-huggers and granola crunchers are just a few of the terms associated with the vegan lifestyle. To most people, especially college students on a budget, the thought of consuming a diet free of late night burgers or ice cream is absurd. However, the new-age vegan lifestyle is more attainable than one might think.

With a growing number of natural grocery stores and restaurants in the Tampa Bay area, the vegan lifestyle is becoming more popular and accessible than ever before. Whether it be for ethical commitment, moral conviction or simply taste, Tampa Bay vegetarians are rejoicing in the newfound raw revolution.

To be a vegetarian or vegan is more than a diet – it is a lifestyle choice. While vegetarians simply do not eat any meat, vegans stray from anything that is produced by an animal, dairy included.

There are both pros and cons of the vegan lifestyle for a college student. Natural food can be very expensive and not always easy to find. The vegan lifestyle must be complimented by taking vitamins and staying active, which is not always an easy feat. The thought of not being able to order a late-night pizza while studying strikes the fear of God in most students.

However, when done the right way, the benefits of a natural diet can be a compelling force in living a long and healthy life. Spencer Sterling, owner of the Grass Root organic restaurant in downtown Tampa, is a longtime vegetarian and avid supporter of the raw food lifestyle.

“Many vegetarians have very unhealthy eating habits, so just because they’re not eating meat does not mean they are benefiting their health.” Sterling said. “The raw food diet is by far the healthiest diet on the planet. A diet comprised of some cooked vegetarian foods and lots of raw foods is a practical and healthy diet for most people.”

Grass Root was opened nearly two years ago by Spencer and his wife, Sabrina Aird. The eco-friendly couple was first introduced to the vegan lifestyle while studying at the Ann Wigmaore Institute in Costa Rica and quickly realized its benefits. After the couple noticed the lack of vegan establishments in Tampa, the Grass Root organic restaurant was born.

“Every time we would visit Tampa from New York there was never any ‘real food’ to eat.” Spencer said. “Our restaurant has provided us with the opportunity to connect and feed a large array of people. We feel blessed to be in this position.”

Spencer and Sabrina are not the typical in-your-face-vegetarians. They do not chastise anyone who eats meat or stand outside of Burger Kings in protest. They choose to live a certain lifestyle and simply want to offer others the same experience if they wish to have it.

“We are not militant activists – more power to you if you are – we are just passionate about our chosen path.” Sterling said.

Health benefits of a vegan lifestyle can include a lower risk of heart disease, low blood pressure and a lower BMI, according to vegsoc.org.

The growing number of natural and raw food establishments in Tampa is making living the lifestyle easier than ever before. Students on a budget can now have their soy cake and eat it too. Sterling’s advice to vegan students on a budget is to think fresh.

“Buy fresh produce from farmer’s markets, ask people with fruit trees to allow you to pick and buy a few raw or vegan cook books to make your own food,” Sterling said.

“Buy a few quality purchases, such as a Vita Mix blender – available at shop.eatgrassroot.com – a rice cooker and a few good knives.”

More than a billion pounds of chemicals are added to processed foods each year, according to gwu.edu. The amount of preservatives packed into foods like Ramen noodles and Little Debbies are detrimental to one’s health. The chemicals put into a product to preserve it are unnatural to the body. They can cause a plethora of health problems and cause allergies and hyperactivity in children, according to all-natural.com. There are all kinds vegetarians in this world. Macro-biotic, strict-vegan, fruitarian and raw foodists, to name a few. The trick is to find a diet that is right for you.

“We encourage people to transition at whatever rate works for them,” Sterling said. “It is very important to do the research yourself and experiment with lifestyle change, in order for it to be a reality to the individual and not just something someone told them to do.”

For more information on a vegetarian diet or organic eating establishments, visit tampabayvegetarians.org.