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Vegetarian Journal Sept/Oct 1998

Staying With It: Three Cases of Teen Vegetarianism

by Rachel Adams


Teen vegetarianism is often viewed as a "phase"-a temporary stepping-stone in general adolescent rebellion. I am consistently confronted by those who believe the lifestyle choice I and a growing number of young people have made is some sort of noncommittal "fad." In actuality, the change to vegetarianism is a decision that requires thought and planning, and is not the product of a teenage whim. I have evaluated the experiences of three students of the Bryn Mawr School in Baltimore, myself included, who, for various reasons, chose to become vegetarian. In each case, the commitment has lasted for five to six years.

The first young woman with whom I spoke joined the Bryn Mawr Middle School's Animal Rights Club in her seventh grade year, when she was 12 years old. Although not deeply involved with the club, she received extensive amounts of literature regarding animal testing, animal cruelty, and the possibilities of a vegetarian diet. This prompted her to begin looking over vegetarian cookbooks, paying close attention to the amounts of fat and cholesterol in the recipes. Coming from a large, extremely health-conscious family, her change to vegetarianism was accepted and welcomed by her parents and sisters. She, however, remains the only vegetarian in the household. Now a high school senior, she subscribes to a highly self-regulated diet, measuring the quantity of certain nutrients in the foods she consumes, and choosing foods with a low fat content. Her mother is very supportive of her diet, creating inventive vegetarian meals for the whole family on given nights. Being vegetarian, she says, stemmed not only from her roots in the Animal Rights Club and personal concern, but health issues as well. Many members of her extended family have had difficulty with weight control and resulting health problems. She regards her diet as a type of preventtive medicine, and as a lifelong commitment.

The second young vegetarian woman who discussed her beliefs with me is a 1997 graduate of the Bryn Mawr School. In sixth and seventh grades, she also was a member of the school's Animal Rights Club, although vegetarianism did not make a profound impact upon her until her older sister, then 15, stopped eating red meat. Eager to follow in her sister's footsteps, the then 12-year-old began taking an interest in vegetarianism. Seeing dirty, cramped roadside chicken factories during trips to the beach had previously sickened her, but now, in reading vegetarian text, her ideas about animal cruelty seemed to gel. When her sister returned to meat-eating after a few months, she remained red-meat free, and gradually excluded poultry, pork, and fish from her diet. In her household, meals had been mainly vegetarian, so her change to complete vegetarianism was easily facilitated. This transition promoted healthier eating habits within the rest of the family, as well. While her diet is not very scientifically measured, she pays close attention to her protein and calcium intake. She eats many pasta dishes, and has concocted several original beans-and-rice recipes. Since her change to vegetarianism, she has become a member of a handful of animal rights groups, and subscribes to several vegetarian magazines.

As in the previous two cases, I became a vegetarian at the age of 12. Several factors contributed to this decision. In 1985, my father was diagnosed with colon cancer, and underwent surgery to remove it. After this, red meat-which I consider a proven carcinogen-was removed from my father's diet. My mother and I also stopped eating red meat at that time. Seven years later, I also became a member of the Animal Rights Club. My decision ultimately rested on health issues-my cholesterol level was borderline-high, and expelling meat from my diet would aid in keeping it at bay. From a hereditary standpoint, I wished to avoid the possibility of colon cancer, which my father had experienced, and dropping red meat seemed like a step in this direction. At around the same time, my mother, then 58, became a vegetarian as well. We stopped eating poultry, pork, and fish over roughly a two-month period. My choice to become a vegetarian was a family one, as meals were modified to fit the diets of both my mother and myself. My father does not eat pork or red meat, and is served a chicken dish approximately once a week. At our home, tofu, pasta, tabouleh, and lentil-based meals are frequently made. Since my conversion to a vegetarian diet, my cholesterol level has stabilized, and I feel consistently healthy. I am certain that this diet is something to which I will remain dedicated, for health and ethical reasons. To go back to meat eating at this point is out of the question; I am satisfied with every aspect of being a vegetarian.

To look upon all vegetarian teens as those being caught up in some sort of "nonconformist phase" is not only wrong, but is offensive to those whose choice is a serious one. During my high school years, I have met young people who fall into the trendy "draw" of vegetarianism; I have also met a substantial number of sincerely dedicated teens, such as those discussed here. Teens who have committed themselves to this lifestyle, and have been devoted to the diet for several years, will likely remain vegetarians throughout their adult lives.

Rachel Adams interned at VRG in the spring of 1998.

Excerpts from the Sept/Oct Issue

The Vegetarian Journal published here is not the complete issue, but these are excerpts from the published magazine. Anyone wanting to see everything should subscribe to the magazine.

This article was converted to HTML by Jeanie Freeman 

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