When the ‘horse burger’ scandal came to light recently, it prompted people to think harder about and pay more attention to what they were eating. For some people, however, this is a daily routine. For those among us who have a dietary requirement of any kind, they need to carefully monitor what they eat or it could have some serious consequences.
Dietary needs such as diabetes, lactose intolerance, vegetarianism and veganism are experienced by many people throughout the world, with some celebrities even following these diets. Actress Alicia Silverstone (who played Cher in Clueless) is a vegan; Halle Berry has type one diabetes and singer Cyndi Lauper (ask your mother) is lactose intolerant.
But what is it really like to have to carefully monitor everything you eat?
Suzanne Cooper, a second year Journalism student, has been a vegetarian for two years – even though her mother initially had some objections to her lifestyle change. “We had several fights about it. Eventually we agreed that I could become vegetarian at eighteen, when I was old enough to make my own decisions”, she said. “I never really liked meat in general. It was always really hard for me to go to friend’s houses, because they would usually have something like roast beef for dinner. I had to pretend I liked it when really, I wanted to throw up.”
Another aspect of vegetarianism Suzanne finds difficult is going out for dinner. “Most places do cater for vegetarians, but it’s just soul destroying when you go out and all you see on the menu is a veggie burger. You just think to yourself, come on, there has to be something else you can do!” She does believe, however, that DCU looks after vegetarians very well. “Whenever I’m in the canteen, there are always vegetarian options. The sandwich bar does a vegetarian option too.”
One positive she sees in being a vegetarian is that since you take in less saturated (animal) fat, you are a lot healthier than those who eat meat. She also finds that she enjoys eating more as she doesn’t have to force herself to eat meat in front of people.
Michelle Storey, a third year Journalism student, was diagnosed with Type One diabetes when she was 17. One of the most identifiable symptoms of diabetes is a thirst that will not go away, something she experienced while on holidays with her family. “I knew something was seriously wrong when I sat down with four large glasses of water, drank them one after another and my mouth would go instantly dry after each.”
She says that having diabetes makes a car insurance premium so high that getting insured is out of the question. One of the most challenging aspects of it, however, is having to inject herself with insulin before every meal. “I have to do a finger-prick test before each meal and before bed to test my levels. Before each meal I also have to take insulin, injected into my stomach depending on the type of meal I’m about to have.” She says the worst thing though is the fact that she is constantly “exhausted.”
She also finds it very hard to get something to eat in DCU that is suitable for her. “Not only is food in the canteen massively overpriced, it is also so unhealthy and most annoyingly of all, they don’t advertise the ingredients contained in their food. I would love to see healthier options with prices that are as kind to the pocket as the junk options!”
The only benefit Michelle can think of which is connected with diabetes is that it is an incentive to eat healthier. It also makes her more aware of how her body works. “If I’m unwell or feeling out of sorts, I’ll instantly know. I can read my body far better now”, she says.
Second year Journalism student Sarah Bermingham realised something was wrong when she was nine years old and still in primary school. “After we had the little cartons of milk for lunch I’d have a migraine about two hours later, and my family thought there might be a connection there.”
It wasn’t until she went to a dietician that she was properly diagnosed as lactose intolerant, which means she is allergic to the sugar naturally found in milk. “This was on Easter Saturday, but I ate my eggs the next day anyway and I ended up in hospital on Easter Sunday night.”
Sarah says that one of the major downsides to having to avoid dairy food is that she is missing out on calcium intake. She also found it hard to adapt to her new diet at a young age. “You’d want to get ice cream and chocolate, the same as everybody else, and you have to be told that you can’t have it.” She now says she accepts the alternatives.
She feels that DCU does look after her dietary needs. “The canteen has so much choice. They sent out an email a few weeks ago and they’re really concerned about how they can cater for everyone’s needs.”
John Sullivan, a second year International Relations student said “I went properly vegan in May 2012 just to prove that you can be a vegan, eat healthily and keep your stamina. I haven’t gone back since.”
One benefit that John sees connected to a vegan diet is that he feels healthier and that he has a lot of energy. “You also lose a lot of excess weight because a vegan diet is very low in fat, so you’re just eating what you really need to. It’s an extremely healthy diet.”
There are, however, downsides. John finds going on nights out difficult because of the ritual of going to the chippers after the club. “Everyone’s hungry, and you have to remember that there’s so many places that you can’t go to. You also have to be careful of alcohol, because a lot of alcohol uses animal products such as honey or fish bladder. For example, Bulmers use fish bladder for the colouring so it’s not vegan friendly.”John feels that DCU doesn’t cater to his needs enough. “There’s definitely room for improvement there.”
Whatever your diet, these students have agreed you can still lead a normal life. You can even rest assured that DCU will do its best to look after your needs.