The Vegetarian Journal's 2015 Essay Contest Winner

Helpers by Kira Horowitz, age 16

People always ask me how difficult it is to be vegan. "Don't you miss meat?" "Isn't it hard to get protein?" "How did you give up your favorite foods?" All of these questions have always been met with quick, to-the-point responses, which I have developed over the years: "No, it is not hard — there are plenty of incredible vegan substitutes; I get more than enough protein from plants; I value the lives of animals over my taste buds." The people around me are always so quick to identify what they think to be the hardest part about going vegan, but no one has ever correctly guessed what my biggest struggle has actually been: refraining from talking about veganism every single chance I get.

Activism is extremely important to me, and there are few things I find more rewarding than knowing I have made an impact, however small. I have been to more vegan marches and protests than I can count, and I never want to shy away from an opportunity to open someone's eyes to the truth. However, I refrain from being too pushy about how beneficial vegan diets are when we learn about climate change in science class because I don't want to upset my teachers. I avoid lecturing the people who sit at my lunch table about the ham sandwiches and burgers they eat because I have to see them every day and do not want to push my friends away. There are so many times when I feel as if I am not doing enough, like I am putting my own needs over the lives of the billions of animals mercilessly slaughtered every year.

I feel guilty for not speaking up whenever I can. I remind myself of the hundreds of animals I save each year by being vegan, about how I convinced my best friend to go vegetarian, of all the times I have stood outside in the freezing rain and waved signs in front of slaughterhouses, but there is still so much more I could be doing. When innocent lives are at stake, there is no such thing as doing too much.

In school, I take an elective called Genocide in the Modern World. In class, we learned about the four types of people involved in genocide: the victims, the perpetrators, the bystanders, and the helpers. I realized that I could relate genocide to the way animals are treated in slaughterhouses, and it became clear to me that being vegan makes me a bystander. As a vegan, I am not directly contributing to the pain and suffering of animals, which is the defining characteristic of bystanders — they do not cause or encourage the problem, but they are not stopping it. But I do not want to be a bystander. I want to help.

Recently, I have decided to stop holding back. I am beginning to be more honest, whether or not it offends others. When they ask if I care when people eat meat around me, I will answer "Yes. I care about the once-living animal now sitting on your plate." When they tell me they could never go vegan, I will no longer smile understandingly and nod my head. Instead, I will explain how easy it is and tell them that even if it were difficult, I would still be vegan because it is the right thing to do. I am no longer afraid of upsetting people. I will not be silent just so others can remain comfortable.

Silence is never the right answer. As Elie Wiesel once said, "We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented." Being a bystander is not enough. The animals need help, and it is up to us to be their voice.

The future is not so bleak. The number of vegans and vegetarians around the world is skyrocketing. Every day, more and more people become informed and make the switch. Cities are starting to adopt Meatless Monday policies, and even the United Nations has recognized that a plant-based diet is the most healthy and sustainable. By always being informative, yet respectful, we can encourage people to consider giving up meat to save the animals, the planet, and ourselves one step at a time; one helper at a time.

For details on The Vegetarian Resource Group Annual Essay Contest see: