Finding Nemo

Posted on in Healthy Living by Annika Jackson

One 16-Year-Old’s
Vegetarian Journey


We live in a society of sleepwalkers. Conservationists and the media try to wake us up but to no avail. We say, “Five more minutes,” roll over, and close our eyes. How can a 16-year-old help us? By giving you what I hope is a strong cup of ethically harvested coffee. I was eating a tuna sandwich when my eyes opened. I had come home from kindergarten
when my mom gave me a snack and put Finding Nemo into the VCR. We had a fish tank right next to the TV. I made the connection. Many tears and years later I became a vegetarian. Not everyone has personal experiences like mine to benefit from, but you can’t ignore the facts. The number of land animals killed annually in the US for food is 9.7 billion.

And the fecal matter these animals produce adds up. Methane released through digestion traps heat in the atmosphere much more effectively than CO2. As you know, the greenhouse effect was helpful until humans got involved and turned the environment’s temperature to “Max.” This meat craving is emitting 18% of all greenhouse gases.

I’m vegetarian because I passionately love animals. They do so much for us, from animal testing (medical and cosmetic) to search and rescue. Yet the scientific community has not recognized that they are sentient beings—they can feel and perceive emotion. New Zealand is the only country that has banned all animal testing and publically acknowledges that animals are sentient. That’s right—everyone convinced that their pet loves them is probably on to something. Yet despite all of the things our furry friends do for us, they are eaten in some countries. Cattle are sacred to some in India, but in the US we chow down on hamburgers. Isn’t it hypocritical to ask that they spare our domesticated animals while we slaughter theirs?

I was eventually driven to vegetarianism by the treatment of baby chicks. It was my ninth year on this planet, and I had become interested in animals rights. I decided I’d go through Netflix and see what I could find. Halfway into one documentary was a scene at a factory farm where people were sorting hatchlings. The voiceover explained that the males are thrown away or ground up into dog food while they’re still alive. I couldn’t believe that such horrific practices actually existed and were tolerated. Methods of “chick culling” include grinding, neck breaking, electrocution, and suffocation in plastic bags. Unfortunately, consumers buying eggs cannot avoid supporting culling, since it is practiced in both free range and caged farms.

Being a vegetarian at 16 is not always easy. Fortunately for me, I live in an area that is progressive and accepting of people’s choices. Don’t get me wrong, I have been asked about 50 times: “If you were stranded on an island and the only thing to eat was meat, would you eat it?” or the ever popular, “Isn’t a vegetarian diet like eating bunny food?” or “How could you ever give up bacon?!” Despite all those semi-irritating questions, my peers don’t make it too hard for me. Actually, I know several people at my high school that are vegetarian and or even vegan. Those that choose this diet are usually self-educated on the issues, but students that are meat-eaters have very limited understanding. I think that’s one of the reasons there are so few of us compared to how large the human population really is. We are slightly educated on these topics in school, but teachers barely dust the surface. The extent of some of my peers’ knowledge comes from Food, Inc., which we watched in our social issues class in freshman year. The only other time is when our teachers brought up climate change in our science and English classes.

As I continue to seek knowledge, I realize that a vegetarian diet benefits not only animals but humans as well. Nonorganic meat is pumped full of hormones and antibiotics. That red meat is the only dietary cause of colon cancer. A writing mentor of mine was born into a farming family where every meal had meat. His mother, brother, and aunt have all contracted colon cancer—an example of the risks of a carnivorous diet. An average American consumes 270 pounds of meat a year. If everyone adopted Meatless Mondays, consumption would be reduced by 15% (about 40 pounds a year), greenhouse gas emission by 11 kilograms per person, and an individual’s risk of colon cancer by 22%.

I believe that people genuinely care about animals, but how can they be demonstrating that if they still eat meat? Beans, nuts, and quinoa are all high in protein and have low impact on the environment. The number of meat alternatives is plentiful, and not all are made of tofu. Our survival as a species is dependent upon the choices of everyone on earth. What’s important is that instead of waiting around for others to do something, everyone becomes an active participant in maintaining these healthy solutions. “Start by doing what’s necessary, then do what’s possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible,” proclaimed Francis of Assisi.

Annika Jackson is a 16-year-old vegetarian at Tamalpais High School in Mill Valley. She loves animals, is copresident of a club dedicated to preserving the ocean, and regularly volunteers for conservation organizations.

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