by Veronica Lizaola
How can a vegetarian teen “survive” and promote vegetarianism in an agriculture high school or one where there are many students who raise animals?
“Surviving” in an agriculture high school might present itself as a challenge as your own personal views are in opposition to the actions of students and teachers around you.
An agriculture school has an agriculture program and chapter, such as Future Farmers of America (FFA), that promotes agriculture education. In my high school, students involved with such chapters could either work with plants or raise various livestock such as pigs, goats, and chickens that were later sold off to slaughterhouses.
Even though in my high school I was not forced to raise an animal or participate in the agricultural program, I was initially discouraged as my fellow peers prepared for the judging of the animal they spent the whole year raising. What really affected me most throughout my experience in high school was that a couple of my friends, who were involved with the FFA, would often name the animal he/she was raising that year. It was so bizarre for me to see my friend develop a relationship with this animal that would later be sold off and killed. It was also disheartening seeing all the goats locked in their pens all throughout the year and then no longer see any animals after the judging season was over knowing that the animals had met their unfortunate fate.
Having spent four years in a high school that was dominated with the influence of the FFA, I also had to see animals being chased by a man on a lawnmower after school so that they would be kept under a certain weight range to bring in more profit.
However, being in an agriculture high school eventually reaffirmed and strengthened my beliefs and I know it can strengthen anyone’s as well. For me, it served as the ultimate motivating force to inform others about a more ethical lifestyle.
One way that I was able to do this was by being featured in our high school newspaper about being a vegetarian. Because vegetarianism was so uncommon in such an agriculture-driven high school, I was approached to be featured in the paper. I saw this as a great way to inform people about what exactly vegetarianism is.
However, that is just one way to gain support and inform fellow peers and faculty. I highly recommend becoming involved either on campus or off campus.
Starting a Vegetarian Club or an Animal Rights Club is a direct way to inform students around you about key issues. One student, Stacey Macias from Chowchilla Union High School that has a strong FFA program, was able to start her own club with the help of her culinary teacher. Being in a small town of approximately 17,000 people, she had to find creative ways to “inform people on healthier eating habits and more eco-friendly ways of life, as well as getting vegetarian/vegan food for the school,” Macias said. In order to start the club, Stacey had to “get permission from the school and get people interested in attending the meetings. I advertised the club through the school announcements every morning prior to our first meetings,” Macias said. Like the club Stacey started, a vegetarian club or an animal rights club does not have to be just for vegetarians or vegans, but for anyone who wants to live a healthier lifestyle and learn about vegetarianism and plant-based diets.
I went a different route when I was in high school and did not start a group. Instead, I did everything independently which was convenient since I did not have to rely on others and find a schedule that worked with everyone. On the other hand, I could have definitely used more help. I chose to inform others through pamphlets that I received from local San Antonio activists; t you can receive similar handouts and information from organizations such as the Vegetarian Resource Group. I also got videos and stickers that I would give to individuals that promoted a vegetarian, ethical lifestyle. The VRG has many different types of information pamphlets, bumper stickers, and even coloring books that you and/or your group can request.
Consider even hosting a viewing of an animal rights movie once a month, or on special days such as Earth Day. I found giving out the DVD’s of ‘Meet your Meat’ to work as fellow peers borrowed that movie from each other. However, there are certainly many more movie options that aren’t as visual and more likely to get approved by your school’s administration and draw in a larger crowd. One animated movie that I recommend showing would be The Plague Dogs, a story about two dogs that escape an animal testing facility. Another ideas is a documentary that promotes a plant based diet.
If you don’t want to start your own club, you can always join an existing club with similar interests such as the Environmental Club, which I eventually ended up doing. Your focus can be how more sustainable a vegetarian diet is and you can request pamphlets such as ‘Save our Water: The Vegetarian Way,’ from the Vegetarian Resource Group or other handouts from organizations such as FARM.
Now that I am a junior in college, I am finding that there exist so many possibilities I wish I had known about and explored while in high school.
Coffeehouses, which are very popular in my college campus, are a great way to get students and faculty together and you can introduce them to your high school! If you are in an organization on campus, this would probably be more beneficial in terms of setting everything up for it, especially if you have a teacher that is in charge of the group and that has more resources than students. You can have a ‘Veggie Coffeehouse’ and serve all vegan desserts and coffee while the event takes place. For example, you can set up a mini art show by talking to an Art Club on campus or putting up flyers for animal welfare-related art by students. Your club can even do some of their own! You can encourage all performers to read poems related to vegetarianism and even have a contest for the best ode to a vegetable/fruit. For those that want to sing, you can encourage songs/music related to vegetarianism or hand them a list of already existing popular songs they can perform by The Smiths, Nirvana, and Goldfinger to just name a few. Of course, for an event as big such as this, you would need to plan and be very prepared. A well-planned event can be extremely successful and can promote vegetarianism in many creative ways, not just through protesting.
Of course, this is just one idea but even if you do not host a coffeehouse, channeling your inner creativity is a great way to reaffirm your beliefs and express your views whether it is through music, art, dance, or writing. One student, Grace Trujillo from FFA school Hiawatha Community School District, wrote an animal rights poem while attending her school. After becoming a vegetarian overnight after watching Meet your Meat, “I had this pain in my heart and I wanted it out. I found a pen and paper and began writing. It was just going to be a few words to describe what I was feeling, but it turned into my poem, ” Trujillo said. ” I was very proud of it and every time I read it, it reminds me why I do what I am doing. When I read it to the audience I looked around the room and saw stunned faces. My poem showed people in my school that me being a vegetarian wasn’t some trend I was following or something I was doing to be cool. It was a choice I had made to live my life by and t I wasn’t joking around when it came to defending my choices,” Trujillo said. Grace was able to read it during Open Mic Night and it hung outside the school library for two months. You can read it here.
Hunger Monster by Grace Trujillo
I stole your life, Forgive me,
Ignorance made a home in my heart,
It stopped the truth from getting in.
Sixteen years I lived a lie.
I said I knew the truth
Yet I knew nothing.
I was cruel, evil, and greedy
I was the epitome of human nature
Now I know,
I don’t know how much
But it’s enough.
Enough to make me sick to my stomach.
I never hated anything like I hate what I did to you.
I close my eyes and hear your screams.
See the blood on my own two hands.
I’m a monster.
I’m the animal.
How many times did I kill you?
How many more deaths will you face?
What can I do to save you?
I deserve your death.
No one will listen to me.
Laughter is my companion.
I chose to express my creativity and positive energy about vegetarianism through my art. I painted and drew several portraits of my favorite musician, Bob Dylan. I thought he was a vegetarian, although there does not exist any concrete evidence to prove that he is one, and I have seen many conflicting statements. I was inspired after I read that he refused to see a rabbit die in a science class. I did another piece that was even published in my high school’s literary magazine. Creativity is always a great venue and can help you survive agriculture and whatever comes next. In college, I was able to do a ‘Spine Series’ where some of the art that I painted on friends’ backs promoted vegetarianism. You can see some of my art here.
Another thing that you can do is to set up a veggie potluck at your school. Having an array of vegetarian choices that everyone can pick from is key. You want to consider your audience. For example, if most of the people that are planning to attend are non-vegetarians, have food that they are already familiar with and that is vegetarian. Foods like spaghetti, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, rice, and cheese pizza are foods that many people already eat that don’t contain meat. You can even introduce such foods and recipes to a class you are enrolled in. For example, Stacey Macias, who as a student in a culinary class and Food Science TA, required that all recipes made in class have vegan adaptations for her and other vegetarian students. Taking advantage of the classes you are currently in is a great way to survive agriculture school and teach others something new. Stacey, for example, even taught the vegetarian students in her class how to decipher food labels to determine whether products were free from any animal by-products.
Another option would be talking to officers of an organization, such as the FFA, to see if they would be willing to only sell vegetarian items for their next fundraiser instead of the traditional BBQ plate. You can even try talking to the administration at your school to see if there can be more safety inspections done for the animals being raised to ensure they are being fed properly or given enough water to drink. Because of the cruelty of raising animals to be slaughtered, you can try getting a petition that bans raising animals for solely this purpose.
Petitions are a great way to let the administration at your school know how many students agree with one issue and stress the need for change. Student Grace Trujillo was able to ‘survive’ her agriculture school by creating a petition so that her school cafeteria offered more vegetarian options. She made a PowerPoint presentation that she delivered to her principal. As her introduction, Grace stated gruesome facts about meat consumption and then explained why more vegetarian choices should be implemented in the school cafeteria. She reasoned within the presentation that making a vegetarian purchase a whole tray (with non-vegetarian items), was unfair and spoke about health issues. Her presentation concluded with each of the vegetarians at her FFA school sharing his/her story about the decision to abstain from meat, fish, and fowl.
If school is not the best venue for you or you don’t feel comfortable getting involved on campus, there is always your city! You can ‘survive’ your agriculture high school by receiving support from those individuals around you by just having their encouragement. Research vegetarian groups in your city to see where and how you can get involved. I was able to find some San Antonio activists through popular social networking sites. The people I met were of all different ages and races, giving me a wider perspective for their reasons of becoming vegetarian. You might potentially even find someone you deeply admire and think would be a great fit to come and speak at your school. Overall, by deciding to get involved within your city can open up more resources that you can potentially bring to your school and local community if you wish to do so.
You might even eventually decide that you want to be a speaker yourself! Whether you request to use the school cafeteria, an auditorium, ten minutes of class time, or while going to the lockers, it is always great to voice your opinion and gain insight from others! Student Grace Trujillo always talked to her family and peers about vegetarianism, while in her school, the cool thing to wear was that blue FFA corduroy jacket. Stacey Macias, as a mentor to incoming freshmen, was able to talk to them about her vegan lifestyle.
If none of these options seem appropriate for you or you’d like to do this additionally, there is always literature and works on vegetarianism. I can’t count the times that I turned to a really great book when I would feel disappointed in what was going on around me. I highly suggest the classic Animal Liberation by Peter Singer, Dominion by Matthew Scully, and The Sexual Politics of Meat: a Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory by Carol J. Adams. Grace Trujillo, shortly after becoming a vegetarian, purchased Vegetarian Times: Vegetarian Beginners Guide to answer some of the questions she had about this new diet and found “the book was perfect because it covered every topic,” Trujillo said. “The book helped me by giving me solid facts that I could use in discussions with my FFA peers,” Trujillo acknowledged.
Although there isn’t a Surviving 101 pamphlet that comes with a canteen and compass, the best way to survive is by not becoming defeated by doubt and negativity, but instead gaining as much support and feeling satisfied with your work at the end of the day. Becoming involved with what does promote your beliefs will not only prepare you for the ‘real world’ in college and outside of academics, but it will make you and others more informed about issues that still need a solution.