Vegan Deli

Vegan Deli  by Jo Stepaniak

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Raising Vegetarian Children
by Jo Stepaniak, M.S.Ed., & Vesanto Melina M.S., R.D.

Raising Vegetarian Children

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Friendship

I became a vegetarian during the summer following my fifth grade year. My mom had been researching diets out of concern for colon cancer, and for a few months she began making separate meals for us (my dad, brothers, and myself) and vegetarian meals for herself. One summer day she told us she was tired of making separate meals: we were now vegetarians. I didn't complain; as long as I was fed, I was okay with the prospect.

The next day, mom brought in "Mississippi Mud-Pie" brand soy burgers. It was her first attempt to assimilate the four of us into the vegetarian collective. We pretended to enjoy them; our fašade vanished as we spat the burgers out.

Naturally, I began to question what I was getting in to. Mom showed me Diet for a New America, by John Robbins - the book that converted us to vegetarianism. She piqued my interest in the vegetarian diet when I found out the impact our diet has on our bodies and on the planet. I absorbed the facts and statistics the book quoted like a sponge. As mom improved her cooking skills, it became obvious to me why we all should be vegetarians. I thrilled at the prospect of spreading vegetarian information to my friends at school next year.

Sixth grade began around the same time the USDA introduced the new Food Pyramid. "I'm a vegetarian!" I told everyone. My classmates countered with a barrage of questions. "Where do you get your protein and calcium?" they asked. "The same place cows get it!" I'd answer enthusiastically. "You eat chicken, don't you? What about fish?" I explained that since chicken and fish are not vegetables, I wouldn't eat them. They seemed perplexed. At first, my peers didn't see this "strange" diet as a threat; one told me that she was a vegetarian too, and she enjoyed chicken from time to time. I told her that she wasn't really a vegetarian, but then she got defensive. I didn't understand her behavior then, but I would understand it soon.

I felt I hadn't reached my classmates as effectively as I should. I began to tell them how meat was destructive to their bodies and to the environment, quoting facts I had learned over the summer. They didn't want to hear how meat-eaters have over a 50% chance of dying from a heart attack compared to a vegetarian's 15% chance. They also didn't want to hear about how meat consumption contributes significantly to global warming, the clearing of rainforests, water pollution, soil erosion, and desertification. Then, once I began to denounce my peers for eating animals, I became an enemy to some of them. They began to mock me: "You're a vegetarian, yet you eat fake meat, fake chicken (soy)? Why don't you just eat meat instead!?"

It took me a long time before I gave up on preaching the vegetarian gospel. I had to learn from the jokes, ridicule, and threats I received that I couldn't impose my beliefs on others. Nor could I continue to ridicule those around me for the decision they made to eat animals. I didn't want to believe that my peers were a lost cause. Mom chuckled that they will learn one day, and that they will remember me when they eventually become vegetarians, too. I laughed along with my non-judgmental mom. She put their beliefs in perspective: in her time, doctors were promoting cigarettes on TV to soothe the nerves. Some people believed whatever the media told them, no matter how ridiculous the message was.

I stopped condemning my peers for their choice to live on an animal-based diet. I learned that I was in no position to challenge them or their beliefs; they needed to find out about vegetarianism on their own - just like how my family learned. My peers certainly didn't need someone telling them that they were wrong for eating animals! With this new outlook on those around me, my personality cooled down. I became less quick to shove vegetarianism down the throats of my peers and to dispense judgement like PEZ«. The ill will among some of my peers and me faded through time as I apologized for denouncing them because of their diet. Something incredible happened: the moment I began to respect my peers' choice to be meat-eaters was the moment my peers respected my choice to be vegetarian.

Diet for A New America changed my life significantly. The book revealed how what I ate affected my body and the environment. In turn, the book led my family and me to become vegetarians - quite a substantial impact by itself. After reading it again two years ago, I decided to go completely vegan. However, the lesson I learned by becoming vegetarian may have had more of an impact on me than becoming a vegetarian did! Seven years ago I became a vegetarian. Months later I learned to respect those who weren't.

Joey L.
Wisconsin

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