The Vegetarian Journal's 2016 Essay Contest Winner

"Why I'm Vegan" by Sakhen S. Ari, age 18

As an African American male, I may be considered by many to be an anomaly! I don't fit the soul food stereotype. I love collard greens and candied yams — but I'll skip the ham. In fact, I don't eat meat! What motivates me to be different? I know that poor health and poor dietary habits have a tremendous impact on Americans in general, but even more so on my community. African Americans in particular suffer the most from many preventable diseases such as high blood pressure, diabetes, heart attack, and stroke.

I have seen up close and personal the ugly effects many of these diseases have had on my own friends and family members, and that is why I am committed to not only a vegetarian lifestyle, but a vegan lifestyle.

Throughout my life, and especially as I entered my teenage years, my choice to be vegetarian has been questioned and scrutinized — surprisingly most closely by my friends and family. Not one lunch period goes by at school without someone inquiring about what I eat. Let's not mention, when I travel with my athletic team and we stop to grab something to eat! In fact I have gotten used to the sideways stares and curious questions as I munch away. I more often than not will even offer inquiring minds a taste, or encourage them to try a sample of what I am devouring. In this small way, on a daily basis I promote a healthier lifestyle through vegetarianism in my everyday normal interactions with those around me. In normal conversations I promote vegetarianism in high school by telling people why they should be vegetarian and telling them how contaminated and detrimental to the environment the food they are eating is. I also tell them how they can get the same amount of protein from different grains, vegetables, and beans. Because of this, I now have friends who want to become vegetarians.

My peers are always asking me, "What is a vegetarian? Can you eat fish?" I always tell them a vegetarian is someone who keeps their body healthy without eating animal products. I know that vegetarianism works because when I am at lacrosse practice my friends always joke with me, saying I'm on the vegetables because I am always running and full of energy. Even though they are joking I know in reality it is true because vegetables give your body more energy than meat. I plan on staying a vegetarian because I have seen through family and friends that your diet affects the way you function in the world. I also volunteer at an organic farm (Abanitu Organic Farm Sanctuary), because not only is it good to eat fruits and vegetables, it is also important that they are organic... The farm is very eye opening because it taught me how important it is to grow organic food.

When I go to college, I will continue to promote vegetarianism... My major goal is to finish college, become a pediatrician in the black community, and help to promote vegetarian options for kids. I will also keep promoting vegetarianism in the black community so that more people are not getting sick from the meat they eat but are living happy healthy lives because their bodies are healthy.