By Natalie Wight
Photo via Pexels
Merced, Calif.— Merced can be a tough place for vegetarians. It wasn’t more than four years ago that I was sitting at the dinner table with my sister, tearing at a chicken leg while staring at her veggie burger.
“Really though,” I questioned, while waving the leg towards her, “Don’t you want to have chicken?” She gave me an annoyed look and simply responded, “Nope,” while squirting ketchup on her faux burger.
After five years of being a vegetarian, it wasn’t hard for her to resist the tantalizing bites I’d offer her just to be irritating. She eventually coaxed me to try refraining from meat, betting that I “wouldn’t last two weeks.” As of today, I’ve been veggie for more than three years.
The Central Valley not only provides the majority of the country’s produce, but also has a huge agricultural community and large Future Farmers of America (FFA) programs in high schools. Some of my friends involved in FFA talk about the cow that they just raised, or how they had to feed their pig a gallon of ice cream before weighing it in.
Meat is part of our local culture; it’s a part of everyday life. Some of my friends and lots of other people around here have grown up raising animals for meat. So learning how to express my thoughts on vegetarianism to friends while still respecting the way they grew up is challenging for me. I often draw on my own personal experience.
One thing I say is that not eating meat is an effective way of making people think more about their physical health. Once I stopped including meat in my meals, I felt less heavy after eating, and became aware of how eating different foods affected my body and energy levels. After eating a cheeseburger I was ready to nap, while after a veggie burger I didn’t feel the slightest bit sleepy.
Research also shows that eliminating meat from your diet can also lower your risk for heart disease, diabetes, obesity, hypertension, as well as ovarian and breast cancers.
Still, most of the restaurants in Merced have few, if any vegetarian and vegan options on their menus, although a handful of places have made an effort to add some options. At times, it can be frustrating to eat out at restaurants. The upshot is that I’ve become a better cook.
Fortunately, local schools have begun to offer limited vegetarian options. During my junior year at Golden Valley, the school added veggie burgers to the lunch menu. While the burger was tasty, it attracted looks of disgust and evoked arguments about protein from my friends. Many people here assume that vegetarian alternatives are nasty, but they’re no worse than meat options. It’s all in the seasoning anyways!
My eating choices have also made me a more mindful shopper. I no longer wear clothes made from leather or other animal products unless I bought them prior to going vegetarian. I also make sure that all of my cosmetics and beauty products, from toothpaste to conditioner, are produced without animal testing and don’t contain animal products.
Being vegetarian has not only made me more aware of how I treat animals, but people as well. Just as I no longer wanted to support violence toward animals, I also realized that I no longer wanted to accept and promote disrespect, violence, and hatred towards any form of life, including people. That’s not to say that I’m never disrespectful, but I am now more conscious of the way I choose to react in disagreements or stressful moments, both of which tend to bring out the worst in all of us.
I am very fortunate to have a supportive family when it comes to my eating choices. And unlike my sister, I don’t have a younger family member there to tease me. My aunt, on the other hand, loves to feed her family, and was extremely disappointed when I wouldn’t try her roasted chicken.
Natalie Wight is a 17 year old student at Golden Valley High School and Youth Reporter with We’Ced Youth Media. Ardent about Veganism and Feminism, she hopes to positively impact people’s’ lives through her passions. In the fall, she will be transferring to San Francisco State University where she will major in Women’s Studies.