Jessica Zalph is a student at Hunter College High School in Manhattan and will be in ninth grade this coming fall. She is a member of Writopia Lab and has won various awards in the Scholastic writing contests. As an author, Jessica usually writes short stories and poetry, but she decided to break out of character to write this “coming out” piece about vegetarianism. With a dash o’ feminism mixed in. Here’s Jessica! -GWP
October is Vegetarian Awareness Month. If only people knew about it.
“Among men [vegetarianism is] regarded as, if not a girl thing, then at least a girlie thing — an anemic regimen for sensitive souls subsisting on rabbit food and tofurkey,” says Holly Brubach in her recent New York Times article “Real Men Eat Meat.” If the male gender sees vegetarianism as a “girl thing,” then that’s got to be our hardest obstacle to overcome. Whenever compassion and eating “rabbit food” became a girl thing, it became taboo for boys, because sexism is rooted so deeply in our society that girls are seen as weaker overall. But maybe making a harder decision wouldn’t be weak at all. Maybe it’d be more macho, if that’s what you’re after, to overcome the stereotypes. Overcoming the expectations society has of you could be “manly,” no?
I’ve been a vegetarian for the fourteen years of my existence – my parents stopped eating meat four years before I was born. They were told by a number of smug acquaintances that, just wait, I would become all “teenager-y” and start eating meat once I became obsessed with fitting in and defying my parents out of spite. We’re still waiting.
Probably the reason I’ve stuck with vegetarianism and animal rights is because it’s not just an arbitrary ritual I inherited, but is based on the unfortunate reality that the thing on the plate is the same as the cute little thing on the farm. I know I must have adopted this concept at an early age, because I recall feeling appalled fury at a boy in my preschool class who took the unsuspecting snails out of their tank and stepped on them.
Most of the attitudes I’ve encountered haven’t seemed to change much over time.
“Vegetarians are stupid” is the bluntest of the accusations I’ve received – this one coming just recently in our eighth grade hallway from a guy flaunting an anti-Wendy’s flyer, sparking the debate that flares up every now and again at school. It’s only in hindsight that I realize that these heated I-wish-they-were-discussions-not-shouting-matches are generally divided by gender. Girls my age tend to be considerably more tolerant, even if they don’t adopt the practice of not eating meat themselves, because boys, in general, have macho stereotypes driven into their heads from babyhood.
The anti-Wendy’s flyer is waved tauntingly. “Meat is good,” comes the challenge, which lingers in the air. Whatever futile hope has caused me to take this bait all these years rises in me again. And so it begins. Detailed description – the cruelty the animals face, the fact that they can feel emotions and pain, even if they don’t have your intellect, thank-you-very-much. Wild rebuttal – ending with “Vegetarians are stupid,” and exasperated disappointment from me. It’s not worth it.
And yet, in a grasping-at-straws way, it is. It’s a success any time that you can make someone confront the cruelty involved in butchering animals, because getting people to face the truth is the hardest thing you can make someone do, and possibly the first step toward creating a change.
I’m not sure when vegetarianism became seen as a sign of weakness. Maybe it always has been. “It’s human nature to eat meat. The food chain and all that,” says my friend. And maybe it is human nature to eat meat, but it’s also human nature to use violence to get and keep political power, and yet many countries have incorporated democracy to overcome this problem. If we can overcome our natural tendency to physically fight for power, surely this October we can overcome the meat-eating part of our omnivore selves as well.
Chew on that.