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Vegetarian Journal Jan/Feb 1999

VRG's 1998 Essay Contest Winners

Christopher Hoeller, Age 8, Aurora, IL

My name is Christopher Hoeller. I live in Aurora, Illinois, and go to Allen grade school. I am 8 years old and in the second grade. I am just like most boys my age except for one thing: I am vegan. I have been vegan for four years. I guess it all started with my Emmah (this means mother in Hebrew), and some kind of new thing that was healthy and supposed to be good. That was when I was four. Before that I ate meat, all kinds, like pork, chicken, beef, duck, and fish. I also ate dairy products like cheese, ice cream and milk.

I used to get a lot of colds and my skin would get bumps; so my Emmah took me to the doctor. She found out that I had a dairy allergy. I can't eat anything with milk in it. So now my Emmah buys me vegan products like Rice Dream milk and ice cream and vegan cheese. She also buys vegan meats like Boca Burgers and Wonderdogs. They taste really good and are healthier for my body.

On Saturdays when my two brothers come, my Abba (Hebrew for father) makes us a NANBY shake. It has vegan ice cream, milk, bananas, and sweetener. It is very sweet and very good. My whole family loves it except my Emmah, as she does not like bananas. When my Abba opens his restaurant he will serve the NANBY shake.

My whole family is vegan and we don't get sick very often because we eat well. My favorite dish is vegan lasagna. My Emmah makes her cheese from scratch. Lasagna is my favorite dish but I know how to cook spaghetti by myself.

This is how you do it. First you take a pot and fill it with water. Let the water boil. Add the spaghetti and cook for 15 minutes. Drain the water from the spaghetti in a colander. Put the spaghetti in the pot again and add margarine, salt, basil, and paprika. This is my specialty; it's called Spaghetti Supreme. One day you can try to make it yourself.

Jessie L. Janeshek, Age 17, Weirton, WV

 The cafeteria was crowded, and I searched for a table that would accommodate me, my tray, and my notebook. I hoped that the comfortable din of the large white-painted room would fuel my thoughts. I had been searching for ideas to use in my essay on vegetarianism for a few days, but I hadn't found anything. All of the tables were filled, and I stood beside one occupied by a young woman, a few years older than I, who was nibbling on a salad. Her brown hair was pulled atop her head in an old-fashioned chignon that complimented, rather than contrasted her torn jeans and violet argyle sweater. Her ears were each dotted with several red jewels and her hazel eyes were intent and framed by dark lashes. I smiled tentatively, and she returned my gesture with warmth. "May I sit here?" I asked her.

"Sure," she answered quickly, rearranging her satchel and books to allow room for me. "I should be leaving in a few minutes anyway."

"Oh, don't rush," I replied.

"Are you a student here at the college?" she inquired.

"Oh, no, I'm still in high school. I just came here today to look around and get some information about the school."

She nodded, and I caught her eyes skimming over my lunch of a hamburger and French fries. I glanced at her salad, and the question arose from me almost of its own accord: "Are you a vegetarian?"

"Yes, as a matter of fact I am," she answered. I didn't want to appear impolite, but I was itching to reach for my notebook. I sensed that a conversation with her might be just what my essay needed.

"I'm writing for an essay on vegetarianism. Do you think I could ask you a few questions?" I grasped my notebook smoothly and drew a pen from my pocket.

"Well, sure," she answered, surprised, and to my relief, not at all irritated.

I cleared my throat, and tossed my hair, attempting to adopt an air of professionalism. Still, there was only one question I could think of to ask, so I did. "What made you decide to become a vegetarian?"

She stared into the crowd as if it composed one large face impatient to hear her answer. Once focused, she set down her fork and spoke. "Well, when I first stopped eating meat, it was because it was the trendy thing to do. My friends and I all tried it. It was sort of an "earthy" way to take meals, or a fad, just like coffeehouses or internet cafes. In a week or so, the novelty passed, and most of them went back to their fried chicken and meatloaf. But I found something, or, should I say, someone, that kept me inspired: Linda McCartney."

I had personally been disheartened by Linda McCartney's untimely death, and I opened my mouth to say so. Before I could utter a word, though, my new friend continued.

"When I began to read up on Linda, I grasped an opportunity to examine a "genuine" vegetarian's lifestyle and her reasons for adhering so faithfully to her cause. One afternoon she and her husband Paul were watching their sheep in the meadow, and then they sat down to a lunch of lamb. Right then and there, they both made a pledge to "go veggie" at a time when it was relatively unheard of except for religious or cultural reasons. The two of them became vegetarians because of a kindness and love towards animals and a desire to stop living a hypocritical life. All I could conjure in my mind at that time was eating a chicken sandwich and then going home and watching the birds that nested in our pine trees. I realized what the McCartneys had felt, and in turn, vowed to do what they had done."

I nodded, truly intrigued by her words. By the time she had finished, I had thought of another question to ask: "What about the health factors of vegetarianism? Do you really get all the nutrients you need?"

"Of course. Being vegetarian is not being limited to a plate of lettuce for every meal. I still eat products derived from animals, like milk, eggs, and yogurt, and beans and peanuts provide just as much protein as meat. And you can't forget about soups, sandwiches, and pastas. Another thing I admired about Linda McCartney is that she made the endless possibilities of meatless meals known. She had her own cookbooks and a line of frozen vegetarian dinners. She spoke out on her cause and did everything in her power to dispel the silly myths about vegetarianism."

I was engrossed as I watched her fervent eyes glow with the passion of her cause. My lunch had grown cold, but I couldn't consider eating it now. I noticed the minute hand of my watch creeping, and realizing that the next class would be meeting soon, I knew my source would have to go.

She recognized it too, and habitually pushed her books together as her monologue came to a close.

"Linda was a pioneer to a cause that was unheard of by the majority of people at that time. Since then, though, millions have walked the trail she blazed, and made their way through the jungle of ignorance and conformity. Perhaps they decided to abstain from eating meat, poultry and fish for health reasons, environmental concerns, or maybe just to emulate Linda and her husband. Still, the reason they chose to "go veggie" is insignificant; what matters is that they had the want to change and the willpower to comply with their choice. I don't know if I've persuaded you now, but maybe you'll consider going veggie in the near future. Do it for your health, your pet, or as a tribute to Linda and her work to better our environment. Try to take the initiative. Each time you slice a carrot instead of a steak, you just may save a life."

I thanked my new acquaintance as she stood to leave. Sitting down, I stared at my untouched lunch and shook my head. The food that had littered my tray hit the bottom of the garbage can with a reassuring plop as I made my exit.

When first entering the cafeteria, I hadn't noticed the thick row of trees that paralleled the walkway. Now, I couldn't help but wonder if sunshine amply penetrated their leafy boughs. But the road that they framed was bathed in the light of the afternoon, and it glinted and beckoned me forward. I almost stepped onto the foot-trodden avenue, but changed my mind and decided to take the long way, through the trees, back to my car. The grass teased my sandaled feet, and I approached the trees, walking with a purpose. Their feathery canopy was thinner than I had first expected.

No, my small forest was not quite Linda's "jungle of conformity." Nevertheless, I had my own path to clear.

Emily Clements, Age 13, Australia

As soon as we had access to the Internet, I was on it like a flash. Millions of sites from around the world on every different subject you could imagine-it was expensive, but I was on it every day! My main interests were kids' sites, chatlines, competitions, and, of course, animal websites.

I have always loved animals from the moment I was born! My two sisters and I grew up with pets, and we continue to love them as a family. As a young child, I loved most of all to go to zoos and animal parks, even though now I realize that they can be cruel to the animals. I still want to be a vet when I "grow up." The thing that strikes me about ALL creatures is that they're so beautiful and intelligent--especially companion animals such as dogs, cats and horses. So naturally, because of my love of animals, I looked up animal websites, perhaps in the hope of finding some pictures and interesting facts. Oh, I found them all right, but they weren't at all what I expected.

I almost regret that I found animal cruelty websites now because they continue to haunt me for a long time after I read them. However, there is the aspect that they help me to take action. The first and most horrible one I have read was a page on "factory farming." It was unlike anything I had ever heard of before.

Up till then, I had been naive in thinking that farms were picturesque landscapes where animals roamed in paddocks and grazed in sunny meadows. Of course, reality is never so good. I wonder how many people realize that the pork chops they ate last night came from a pig that had lived its short life in a cramped, dark pen, cruelly dosed with steroids, hormones and antibiotics? The things that people will do to save money in the farming business are shocking. What sort of world do we live in? Then the merciless slaughter ... it was all too much. I was sure I could not eat another piece of meat without feeling an overwhelming sense of guilt.

In the next few weeks, I hoped the feeling would go away, but it didn't. I continued to see evidence of animal abuse. At least twice a month we would pass a sheep truck on the road: it would be cramped full of terrified animals, some with their limbs hanging out the side of the truck. I learned they were headed for a long tough sea journey to the Middle East for slaughter; apparently as many as 5% would die on the way. I hoped others, especially my parents, would have the same views as me. They didn't.

When I told my parents I wanted to stop eating meat I was surprised at their laid-back reaction. After about a week of me leaving my meat on the side of the plate, the conflict began. They couldn't seem to understand that I actually meant what I said: I was now a vegetarian. You can't blame them really, with the scarce amounts of vegetarians around when they were my age, they found it hard to believe it was different now. Mum and I would argue and argue. Were humans meant to eat meat? Were animals meant to be eaten? Was there such a thing as a healthy vegetarian? Was this some sort of weight-loss diet I was attempting? Of course, I was very angry, furious even. Dad told me to write out a list of things that I would need to eat instead, which I had already done. Like any parents, Mum and Dad were worried about my health. I didn't appreciate it!

One day I came home to find the fridge well stocked with a million soy products and every sort of tofu you could possibly imagine! Finally my parents were accepting that I would eat differently from them, and maybe they would even try some of my new foods!

It's still hard for my parents to come to terms with vegetarianism, especially when so many of their friends have very twisted views about this subject. I'm lucky--in my generation, vegetarians are mostly accepted and different foods are widely available. So far, I have found my diet interesting, healthy, AND cruelty free, and I'm determined to make it last!

Excerpts from the Jan/Feb 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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