Crystal Whitten, an adjunct faculty member at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and Southern Adventist University, says fully one-third of her students at UTC this spring indicated they are vegetarians or don't eat meat on a regular basis.
"I'm not surprised," she says, "but I'm pleased to see a good number had thought through the issues. And a number of others are debating the merits of it."
Whitten, a vegetarian since the age of 5 when she and her classmates slipped into their parents' Adventist church classroom and saw a film on how animals are killed, says the attitude of her students and those like them is likely to fan the local desire for more vegetarian restaurants and vegetarian offerings at more traditional restaurants.
A Chattanooga area resident only since August, she says she is looking forward to trying items like the veggie burger at J. Alexander's, the Vegan on Shrooms "burger" at Urban Stack Burger Lounge and the plantain taco at Taco Mamacita.
Indeed, Whitten points out, Taco Mamacita has a whole menu for vegetarians and vegan options.
"I thought that was fantastic," she says.
Among the vegetarian restaurants in the Chattanooga area are Green Thumb Vegetarian Kitchen on Market Street, Sluggo's North Vegetarian Cafe in North Chattanooga, Thrive Cafe (which opened on River Street in 2012), the Village Market deli in Collegedale and the Whole Foods Market cafe in North Chattanooga (which changed its name from Greenlife in 2012).
Of those, Green Thumb underwent a $15,000 renovation last fall and changed its name from Country Life. The restaurant's update included a new design, a new menu and the installation of a sushi bar, juice bar and smoothie bar.
"It's not a buffet anymore," chef Ervie Mariano said upon its opening. "It's all about combos [hot dishes, salads and a la carte items] now."
Two vegetarian restaurants -- the Village Market deli on University Drive and the Whole Foods cafe on Manufacturers Road -- are full-service natural foods grocery stores and dine-in spots.
With more and more people eating out and on the go, Whitten says, it makes sense to eat vegetarian.
"A real obvious [advantage is that food] is easier to digest," she says. "You're not going to feel like hopping on a paddleboard after you eat a meat meal."
Contact staff writer Clint Cooper at ccooper@timesfree press.com or 423-757-6497.