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Being A Veg(Etarian) This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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   We all make many important choices in our lives. While some have a greater effect on us than others, the important factor is that we make them ourselves. Once established, it will become a fundamental part of our self, something that touches the essence of our individuality, influencing the way we think and feel every day. Becoming a vegetarian has done this to me.

Not many people really understand why I chose to stop eating meat. Even more are surprised that I still don't, even though it has only been fifteen months. There are a few reasons that can be easily explained, while others cannot. The most important one is fairness. I would not want someone to kill me and chew on my leg; therefore, why should I, and the rest of the world for that matter, do it to an animal who has no control over its life? The thought of the senseless killing absolutely makes my stomach churn and my leg muscles tense with fear.

After I realized all the inhumane reasons animals are killed, I began to discover the horrendous ecological problems raising animals for meat has caused. After reading Frances Moore Lappe's book, Diet for a Small Planet, my beliefs in vegetarianism grew into a conviction that I had made the best decision of my life. It was through reading her book I became increasingly aware of not only the problems that humans cause when they eat meat, but also the damage we do on a day-to-day basis.

Without a doubt, Lappe's most important concept was statistics of the resources expended to put just one pound of cattle on our plates. Starting with food that cattle consume, it takes sixteen pounds of grain and soybeans per pound of meat produced. The water that it takes to grow the grain and soybeans amounts to the equivalent of an average family's monthly water consumption (2,500 gallons). About half the water utilized in the United States is for livestock production. Furthermore, the major feed for the animals that are slaughtered, corn and soybeans, erode topsoil more than any other crop. In various regions of the United States the topsoil deterioration is worse than during the Dust Bowl era. In fairness, I must mention that the ratio of food and water needed to produce poultry and pork is considerably lower.

Needless to say, being a vegetarian has greatly changed my life. On a practical level, I cannot eat wherever I want. I must call beforehand to see if a restaurant offers any dishes without meat. It is inevitable that not all do. Some managers do not understand that this means no meat-based soups, or fish or chicken dishes.

Death of all living things hits home more now. Perhaps the reason for my sensitivity relates to my personal choice not to kill and the inability to comprehend why others do not follow suit. Too many seem concerned solely with themselves and are totally ignorant of the problems that the world is facing, no matter how much the problems permeate the media.

Becoming a vegetarian was not a rash decision; rather, it was a slow process that evolved over a few years. The first incident that made me question the ethical idea of slaughter for people's luxury occurred when my family and I were making our yearly car trip to visit my grandmothers in Michigan. Many hours into the trip, I looked out the window and saw a truck with chickens crammed into six-inch high crates. All weekend I could not eat meat; the first step had been made. After that I gradually consumed as little meat as possible. First to go was chicken on the bone. I had quite a hard time (after that incident) looking at my brother eating chicken legs. It would not be too different when I ate a breast. Biting into a large hunk, I would look back for the next bite and I would see ribs. My stomach would tighten with horror and my brows wince with worry.

After chicken came steak. Since we rarely ate steak, it was less of a problem and it took me longer to arrive at this step. Like poultry, steak has a grain to it. For me, and I suppose other vegetarians, this makes it easier to remember that there is actually a piece of cooked flesh on the plate. The appearance of steak is even more gruesome when it is not fully cooked, and juices secrete when cut. The very last flesh that I would not eat was hamburger, since it was easier to forget that it, too, once had a heartbeat. This last stage took a long time to accept because I knew that I was completely changing my lifestyle. Compounding this was the knowledge that I had the responsibility to keep myself healthy with proper foods since no one else in the family was a vegetarian.

The last type animal I stopped eating was crab, which actually happened around the time I abandoned hamburger. One would think I would have given it up long ago since the shell has to be broken to get at the meat. Two summers ago we went to Santa Cruz, California. Since crabs are available there, my mother and I each had one for dinner. Actually, she ended up eating mine since I could not. It was easier to end my meat consumption in a place other than home. It gave me time to finish the fundamental change in lifestyle that had begun years earlier.

It is one thing to read about something that offends or bothers you, but it is totally a different step when the belief is acted upon. I found that I constantly came in contact with a convention that disturbed me, and as Robert Frost said, "That has made all the difference." I truly cannot imagine how I lived my life before becoming a vegetarian. All I know is I will never go back. n


This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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