By Liz Dwyer
What's served up in college cafeterias became a hot topic this summer thanks to an episode of writer Malcolm Gladwell's podcast Revisionist History. In July, Gladwell argued that some schools are spending big bucks putting fancy food on the menu—think lobster bakes and venison—instead of offering financial aid to low-income students. But another trend in campus dining halls that Gladwell might want to take a look at in a future episode is one that could hold down college food costs: vegan meal options.
Meat- and dairy-free menu items have become one of the hottest things on college cafeteria menus.Colorado Mountain College
According to a survey released Tuesday by peta2, the youth division of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), meat- and dairy-free menu items have become one of the hottest things on college cafeteria menus.
The organization surveyed nearly 1,500 four-year colleges and universities in the U.S. and found that 62 percent of schools serve vegan menu items on a daily basis, up from 28 percent in 2014. The survey also found that about 9 percent of schools—private institutions like American University in Washington, DC and public state schools like the University of California, San Diego—have entirely vegan dining stations.
The vegan revolution isn't just happening on the coasts. The 36,000-student University of North Texas has had a 300-seat all-vegan dining facility since 2011. After the school installed the vegan dining hall, "meal-plan sales rose by 20 percent while operating costs remained comparable," according to peta2.
Animal products "are among the most expensive items when it comes to wholesale food costs because of the massive amount of water and grains required in order to produce them," Ben Williamson, senior international media director for PETA, wrote in an email to TakePart.
A study published in the September 2015 edition of the Journal of Hunger & Environmental Nutrition found that people who go vegetarian spend an average of $750 less on groceries than folks who follow federal dietary recommendations. Colleges that replace meat and dairy menu items with plant-based offerings are likely seeing similar per-student savings.
A desire to save money isn't the only reason schools are moving to meat-free meals.
"Research shows that millennials are three times more likely to be vegetarian than Gen Xers and 12 times more likely than baby boomers, because eating vegan food is directly tied to helping combat world hunger, cruelty to animals, environmental degradation and other issues that millennials consider to be crucial," Williamson wrote.
Many "students have made it clear they understand the health benefits of vegan food, along with its lower impact on the environment," Brian McCarthy, a chef at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said.
The environmental implications of these students ditching meat are significant: A 2014 Oxford University study found that the average meat eater has an environmental footprint of 15.82 pounds of CO2 per day, whereas a vegan has a footprint of 6.4 pounds of CO2.
"Vegan food has now reached the mainstream in even the most rural parts of the country, which is a testament to the rapid decline of the meat, dairy and egg industries," Williamson wrote. "Students at the University of Montana, for example, can always get a hearty meal at the vegan dining station on campus, and Oklahoma City University offers a dining station that's both vegan and raw, despite being in the heart of the 'beef belt.' "
Per-capita meat consumption in the U.S. jumped 5 percent in 2015, the biggest increase since the 1970s, but Williamson believes college students will stick with a vegan lifestyle after graduation—a shift made easier by food companies and restaurants.
"While college campuses are often the incubators of emerging trends, the progress doesn't end there: After students graduate, they'll be entering a world where major brands such as Chipotle, Ben & Jerry's and even White Castle now advertise vegan options front and center," he wrote.
As for those schools that still believe a vegan option is a sad-looking salad bar, peta2 has a "Veganize Your Dining Hall" campaign pack, which gives students resources for lobbying their schools to adopt more robust vegan-friendly menus.
This article was reposted with permission from our media associate TakePart.
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By Jacob L. Steenwyk and Antonis Rokas
From the mythical minotaur to the mule, creatures created from merging two or more distinct organisms – hybrids – have played defining roles in human history and culture. However, not all hybrids are as fantastic as the minotaur or as dependable as the mule; in fact, some of them cause human diseases.
When Looking Through a Microscope Isn’t Close Enough.<p>For the last few years, <a href="http://www.rokaslab.org/" target="_blank">our team at Vanderbilt University</a>, <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/lab/Gustavo-Goldman-Lab" target="_blank">Gustavo Goldman's team at São Paulo University in Brazil</a> and many other collaborators around the world have been collecting samples of fungi from patients infected with different species of <em>Aspergillus</em> molds. One of the species we are particularly interested in is <a href="https://doi.org/10.1006/rwgn.2001.0082" target="_blank"><em>Aspergillus nidulans</em>, a relatively common and generally harmless fungus</a>. Clinical laboratories typically identify the species of <em>Aspergillus</em> causing the infection by examining cultures of the fungi under the microscope. The problem with this approach is that very closely related species of <em>Aspergillus</em> tend to look very similar in their broad morphology or physical appearance when viewing them through a microscope.</p><p>Interested in examining the varying abilities of different <em>A. nidulans</em> strains to cause disease, we decided to analyze their total genetic content, or genomes. What we saw came as a total surprise. We had not collected <em>A. nidulans</em> but <em>Aspergillus latus</em>, a close relative of <em>A. nidulans</em> and, as we were to soon find out, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2020.04.071" target="_blank">a hybrid species that evolved through the fusion of the genomes</a> of two other <em>Aspergillus</em> species: <em>Aspergillus spinulosporus</em> and an unknown close relative of <em>Aspergillus quadrilineatus</em>. Thus, we realized not only that these patients harbored infections from an entirely different species than we thought they were, but also that this species was the first ever <em>Aspergillus</em> hybrid known to cause human infections.</p>
Several Different Fungal Hybrids Cause Human Disease.<p>Hybrid fungi that can cause infections in humans are well known to occur in several different lineages of single-celled fungi known as yeasts. Notable examples include multiple different species of <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/yea.3242" target="_blank">yeast hybrids</a> that cause the human diseases <a href="https://rarediseases.info.nih.gov/diseases/6218/cryptococcosis" target="_blank">cryptococcosis</a> and <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/fungal/diseases/candidiasis/index.html" target="_blank">candidiasis</a>. Although pathogenic yeast hybrids are well known, our discovery that the <em>A. latus</em> pathogen is a hybrid is a first for molds that cause disease in humans.</p>
(Left) Candida yeasts live on parts of the human body. Imbalance of microbes on the body can allow these yeasts, some of which are hybrids, to grow and cause infection. (Right) Cryptococcus yeasts, including ones that are hybrids, can cause life-threatening infections in primarily immunocompromised people. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention<p><a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.ppat.1008315" target="_blank">Why certain <em>Aspergillus</em> species are so deadly</a> while others are harmless remains unknown. This may in part be because <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fbr.2007.02.007" target="_blank">combinations of traits, rather than individual traits</a>, underlie organisms' ability to cause disease. So why then are hybrids frequently associated with human disease? Hybrids inherit genetic material from both parents, which may result in new combinations of traits. This may make them more similar to one parent in some of their characteristics, reflect both parents in others or may differ from both in the rest. It is precisely this mix and match of traits that hybrids have inherited from their parental species that <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/14/science/14creatures.html" target="_blank">facilitates their evolutionary success</a>, including their ability to cause disease.</p>
The Evolutionary Origin of an Aspergillus Hybrid.<p>Multiple evolutionary paths can lead to the emergence of hybrids. One path is through mating, just as the horse and donkey mate to create a mule. Another path is through the merging or fusion of genetic material from cells of different species.</p><p>It is this second path that appears to have been taken by our fungus. <em>A. latus</em> appears to have two of almost everything compared to its parental species: twice the genome size, twice the total number of genes and so on. But unlike other hybrids, which are often sterile like the mule, we found that <em>A. latus</em> is capable of reproducing both asexually and sexually.</p><p>But how distinct were the parents of <em>A. latus</em>? By comparing the parts contributed by each parent in the <em>A. latus</em> genome, we estimate that its parents are approximately 93% genetically similar, which is about as related as we humans are with lemurs. In other words, <em>A. latus</em>, an agent of infectious disease, is the fungal equivalent of a human-lemur hybrid.</p>
How A. Latus Differs From its Parents.<p>Elucidating the identity of closely related fungal pathogens and how they differ from each other in infection-relevant characteristics is a key step toward reducing the burden of fungal disease. For example, we found that <em>A. latus</em> was three times more resistant than <em>A. nidulans</em>, the species it was originally identified as using microscopy-based methods, to one of the most common antifungal drugs, <a href="https://www.drugbank.ca/drugs/DB00520" target="_blank">caspofungin</a>. This result provides a clear example of the potential importance of accurate identification of the <em>Aspergillus</em> pathogen causing an infection.</p><p>We also examined how <em>A. latus</em> and <em>A. nidulans</em> interact with cells from our immune system. We found that immune cells were less efficient at combating <em>A. latus</em> compared to <em>A. nidulans</em>, suggesting the hybrid fungus may be trickier for our immune systems to identify and destroy.</p><p>In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, our quest to understand <em>Aspergillus</em> pathogens is becoming more urgent. Growing evidence suggests that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/myc.13096" target="_blank">a fraction of COVID-19 patients are also infected with <em>Aspergillus</em>.</a> More worrying is that these <a href="https://doi.org/10.3201/eid2607.201603" target="_blank">secondary <em>Aspergillus</em> infections</a> can worsen the clinical outcomes for those infected with the novel coronavirus. That being said, we stress that little is known about <em>Aspergillus</em> infections in COVID-19 patients due to a lack of systematic testing, and none of the infections identified so far appear to have been caused by hybrids.</p><p>So, when it comes to hybrids, some are fantastic (the minotaur), some are helpful (the mule) and some are dangerous (<em>Aspergillus latus</em>). Understanding more about the biology of <em>Aspergillus latus</em> may help in our understanding of how microbial pathogens arise and how to best prevent and combat their infections.</p>
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The Navajo Nation covers the corners of three different states. Google Maps
Growing Contribution<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzM3NDY5Ny9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NjM4MTgyM30.IuQTKQs1stvYYKD6vaVTrqAyoBsUG0BhDvlhxsyKwPA/img.png?width=980" id="02a05" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2841f82b1785df5d5ed7bf64d3bb882b" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
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