There is an important change I’ve made recently, one that I wanted to write about on my blog, especially as it signals a new direction in my life.
I’m good with words, I like to think. But much better when they are carefully thought of, mulled over, and written down. Scribbled on paper or typed with my fingers. Try to talk to me about big, serious, complicated things in real life, and I kind of clam up. Stumble and stutter and completely go blank. I get fidgety and defensive; I skirt around the topic with “I don’t know”‘s and tears brimming at the edge of my eyes. Already, I have been asked many times why I am making this change. Why I decided to take this path. Why this matters. So I want to write these answers down in a place where I could express myself easily, comfortably.
When I was in fifth grade, there were a few girls with whom I was close friends. One day, the other girls decided we should change seats and I should sit in the front row, away from everyone else. I told them I did not want to change seats. I liked where I sat. That day, I had not handed in an assignment to my math teacher on time, so I had to sit out for the first fifteen minutes of recess. After I served my punishment, when I returned to my classroom, I immediately noticed that the girls had moved all of my belongings from the seat in the back to another desk in the front of the room—very clearly against my wishes. A squabble ensued, but was quickly resolved at the hands of our fifth grade teacher. She suggested I switch seats again so I would not have to sit near the girls who clearly did not want to be friends anymore. That day, I moved my things into the only other empty desk cubby in the room, seated to the left of a curly-haired girl with a gentle, goofy smile and an infectious laugh. Ali and I quickly became attached at the hip. We tied up our parents’ phone lines talking for hours, planned “accidental” matching outfits, fought over our divided gel pen business, and acted like total weirdos all the time. She threw me a lifeline when I was drowning in ten-year-old drama—sad and friendless in a fifth grade classroom.
Later that year, Ali became a vegetarian. She had seen some cute baby chicks and then immediately felt sad that she ate them. Over the next few months, she gradually cut out animals and fish from her diet. I loved animals too, but could I really imagine my life without meat? I did try, that year or the next, to give up eating meat one Lent-in season—but was told by my mother that I could not give up that. Where would I get my protein? What would I eat? I protested slightly at first, but then easily resigned. Even though Ali and I have remained friends in the more than ten years since that fateful day in the classroom, I rarely considered vegetarianism again.
My senior year of college, I took a communications class. Our final assignment was a media and cultural analysis of a culture or subculture that we were unfamiliar with, and we were to present our findings to the class. Initially, I struggled to choose a culture, but eventually decided to look into vegetarianism again. I contacted a few people I knew who were vegetarians—college classmates, friends I met while studying abroad, and, of course, Ali—plus a few friends of friends. They shared information about why they chose to change their diets, how their diets impacted their lives, and what sort of adversity they faced from people. It was the first time I had really learned about vegetarianism and veganism.
Around the same time, I somehow stumbled upon the personal blog of a girl who lives in Australia. Ally posted cool pictures and seemed like an interesting, passionate young person, so I followed her blog. Through her many posts over the past few years, I’ve watched her transition from a “regular” meat-eating diet to a vegetarian diet and to eventually living a full vegan lifestyle. She’s been very open about her transitions between each diet, the benefits of eating (and living) cruelty-free, and sharing information about vegetarian and vegan lifestyles. I did not originally follow her blog for these reasons. Day after day though, I read her posts. How unethical it was to mercilessly kill and eat animals. How there were plenty of other sources of protein and nutrients that did not involve harming animals. How much the slaughter of so many animals is actually detrimental to the environment.
Slowly, it began to click in my own head. What was I doing? As such a proclaimed animal-lover, how was I so okay with eating animals—the same animals I believe have thoughts and feelings, who feel pain and loss, who deserve to live their lives naturally and without fear of being murdered for human consumption. And then I realized, I’m not. Each time I was faced with the thought or reality of eating animals over the past few months, I first pictured their faces. A Holstein cow, ready to bat her long, sweet eyelashes, a yellow flower tucked behind her ear. A fuzzy little sheep, romping through a field with his mother and siblings nearby, baa-ing loudly. A school of fish navigating through the ocean in constant unison. A pack of chickens, bopping and strutting along a garden path. A chubby pink pig, sloshing and rolling in mud, squealing and smiling simultaneously. I finally realized it was not okay to keep killing these beautiful animals for the sake of a meal.
I began to cut animals out of my diet whenever I could. When I didn’t, I tried not to picture their sweet little faces in my mind, frolicking through fields with their families and munching on grass; it provided little solace. I had been so ignorant to these facts for so long, but I could no longer hide from them.
I was afraid, at first, to tell people about this change. I worried that they would judge me, that they wouldn’t understand or accept my choice. So many traditions, so much of life and society, revolve around food. And I would be defying all of that. I could no longer accept that animals were food though; I could no longer stomach consuming them for any reason. Because they are animals. Finally, I stopped caring what people would say or think of me, or about the questions they would ask, and I made the conscious decision to change myself. For the last full month, I have abstained from eating animals at every meal. This change is about being conscious and compassionate. It is about protecting the environment–the animals and this earth we live on. Living a life—humble and noble—to be proud of.
So, once again, I would like to say hello. My name is Jess. I am a twenty-something with not many things figured out. I live, learn, and grow every day. And I am a vegetarian.