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
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
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.
e x t e s s a y -
Copyright © 1998-2013 by Jo Stepaniak
All rights reserved.
Nothing on this web site may
be reproduced in any way
without express written permission from the copyright