VRG's 1999 Essay Contest Winners

By Adia Dawn

Age 13
Cedar Creek, Texas

Think Before You Eat

It was finally Friday night. The night of my friend's birthday party. It was a sleepover party. When I arrived, we watched a movie, and then it was time for dinner. One of the girls, Sarah, was eating a piece of chicken. Since I am a vegetarian, and have been my whole life, I was curious why she ate meat. I finally decided to ask her. Her response was that she thought it tasted good, and everyone else eats it. As she said that, I realized her answer was not what I expected. Actually, I'm not sure what I expected.

My next question to her was, "How can you eat something that had a life of its own?" Then she looked at me and said, "I believe that if an animal is small enough for you to kill with your hands, then you can eat it." Now that got me upset! For anyone to THINK that they can judge the importance of a creature's life by its size is unbelievable! If a person believes this, then they must also believe that smaller people are less important than bigger ones.

My whole point to her was that she was taking an animal's life. I asked her how she felt about taking an animal's life. She replied, "I never looked at it from that perspective. Maybe you're right."

As we continued our conversation, Sarah let me know how awful she would feel if someone came and killed her baby pig and ate it. "You have a pig?" I asked her. "Yes, I love pigs!" she said. "Oh...do you eat bacon?" I just had to ask. "Yes, I do." she replied. Quite annoyed, I asked, "How can you really love an animal if you eat it?" I was anxious to hear her response. She actually said, "I get it now."

Then Sarah proceeded to tell me how she would think about going back to being a vegetarian. I never knew she had been one. She told me she used to be a vegetarian when she was little. I asked her why she is not one now. Sarah said that all of her friends ate meat, so she wanted to also. I was surprised that her parents thought that was OK. That was the end of our conversation for the evening.

The next day, as I reflected on all of these thoughts, I discovered that everyone thinks differently. I also realized that my beliefs are very important to me. Now I am a lot more aware of how people around me think or act, based on what they eat.

People do so many things that other people do, just to be cool or to be like their friends. I am my own person. I do what I know is right, not what other people think I should do.

If only people could feel what they do to animals, then maybe they wouldn't hurt them anymore. Having empathy for life other than themselves is an important key for humans in keeping our planet alive.

There is another concept that my conversation with Sarah brought up for me. When people love, admire, and see the beauty of animals, they seem to want that animal for their own use. Why can't they observe that creature's beauty? Why do they always want to control it?

Seeing an animal in its natural habitat, doing what it normally does, is a gift for us to experience. We do not need to interfere with their lives. There are so many ways humans manipulate the natural instincts of animals. It seems very unfair.

People need to use their own instincts and feel beautiful about themselves, without any help from animals. The fashion world often promotes animal products. Animals are harmed because of cosmetic testing. There are a lot of creatures that are killed, just so someone can wear a fur coat. Also, a lot of animals are skinned for human use. These cruel acts are all unnecessary.

If I tell people the truth, then I might change them. Maybe I can help others see some things differently. If we all can be more aware and sensitive to ALL life, this planet would be a healthier, cleaner, and most of all, a happier place to live.

By Lauren Singleton Burkert

Age 17
Johnstown, Pennsylvania

What It Means To Be a Vegan

As the first anniversary of my becoming vegan approaches, I am now more aware than ever of how large an impact my decision has on my daily life. My switch from vegetarianism to veganism has made me so ever more aware of the ethical, environmental, and health reasons behind veganism. Most of all, my choice has made me more aware of the feelings of the animals and my own inner self-discipline.

On December 26, 1997, I began a journey. I remember the day quite clearly. It was roughly a week before New Year's Day, and I was off of school and work that evening due to the holiday season. Out of sheer boredom, I began racking my brain for a New Year's resolution. In the past I, like most people, had not been so true to my resolutions. For the 1998 year, I wanted to try out something I considered ideal, but I also did not believe I could maintain my resolve. (I had an ongoing record of breaking these resolutions.) I decided I would attempt to become vegan.

I have been a vegetarian since I was ten. My parents were not vegetarians at the time, although meat was never a staple food in any home cooked meal. My mother had been a vegetarian in college, and my dad is interested in macrobiotic cooking and consuming lower on the food chain. Without any direction from them, I decided to become a vegetarian, which they supported, although with some hesitation due to the importance of meat in the typical American diet.

I did not decide to become a vegetarian for health reasons, which I have subsequently come to understand. At the time, my motivation was purely ethical. Floating from summer picnic to picnic, I realized that hamburgers were actually dead cow. Then I began to wonder why everyone, including myself, ate meat. I knew that in our society it is a twentieth century decision to include meat in every meal. At the time I did not know about the protein value of meat or any of the other arguments that I would soon be confronted with by my peers. I simply eliminated meat and its byproducts from my diet.

My switch to veganism is similar to my switch to vegetarianism due to the ethical motivation. I chose to take the final step of vegetarianism because I am morally opposed to the exploitation of animals for our greedy and unnecessary consumption. Once alerted, my concern spread to the end of consumption of milk, eggs, and leather. I still cannot figure out how it is possible that almost everyone in America does not have a problem with the whole inhumanity of the situation.

My previous experience with veganism was not strong at all. In ninth grade I had attempted this diet with my best friend Allison. We lasted as vegans for about a week. (I held out for a few days longer than she, only because of my love for green peppers and cucumbers.) Now that a few years have passed and eating a lowfat diet is becoming increasingly popular, finding good, vegan food is rarely a problem. Even eating out is also relatively painless, although I have yet to set foot into Ryan's, Bob Evans, or the like. Whenever I run into doubt of my eating choice (such as a Mc-Donald's worker who glares at me in question when I ask if their fries contain beef fat), I turn to magazines such as Vegetarian Times and The Vegetarian Resource Group's Vegetarian Journal for their reassurance, along with excellent recipes, stories, and updates.

My choice to switch to veganism has led me to read broadly about diets, and my reading has led me to many unexpected revelations. For example, my father has a polysystic disease, a genetically dominant disease about which revolutionary research is taking place. Recently released nutritional findings show that a vegan diet along with regular exercise greatly reduces the growth of the grape-like cysts that form in the kidneys. Studies show that a vegan diet also greatly reduces one's risk of having heart disease, bowel cancer, breast cancer, and many other life-shortening diseases threatening American society today.

My self-discipline has grown tremendously since my change in diet. I am amazed by the fact that I have been able not to consume any fish, fowl, dairy, or egg products knowingly in the last 12 months. Once I had my mind set on switching to a full-fledged vegan, no matter how tempting the delight, I easily resisted. Now that I have accomplished it, I feel as though there is nothing that I could not accomplish if I set my mind on it.

My veganism now plays a major role in my view of the environment. Being an environmentalist, I believe that the most important part of it is my being vegan. By avoiding meat, dairy, and eggs in my diet, I do not contribute to the degradation of the environment. That environmental degradation is from the wasted use of land for the livestock and the deadly run-off from the animal farms that pollute streams, harming everything from fish to humans.

I hope to continue my vegan diet for the rest of my life. If I have children, I will most likely recommend, but not force this regimen on them. Becoming a vegan has not only made me feel healthier, it has made me feel like a new person. Since becoming vegan, my asthma, which held me from effectively competing in running, soccer, and swimming, has greatly improved. I now hardly ever need to use my inhaler. I credit this new healthier me to my vegan diet.