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Young adults are becoming increasingly more conscientious about the impact that their everyday dietary choices have


From top left: Alex Keipper, Joni Hector, Rebecca Stone, Sara Postlethwait

By Kendal Enz

Twenty-one year old Joni Hector walked past the main food line in the Hood College cafeteria, veering off to the right to examine the vegetarian and vegan options at the sidebar. Glancing at the offerings of sweet and sour tofu, herbed mushrooms and vegetarian tacos, she helped herself to the latter, heaping on salsa, lettuce and tomatoes on top of imitation chicken.

“I’m not a vegan anymore,” she said, gesturing towards her plate, “but I still like to eat vegan food.”

Filling a glass of water she stated, “It’s really important to me to be aware of how my every day dietary choices affect my body, animals and the environment.”

She’s not alone. According to a 2008 survey conducted by the Harris Interactive Service Bureau, approximately 7 million people follow a vegetarian diet in the United States, 1 million of those people embrace veganism. Forty-two percent of people in the U.S. who follow a plant-based diet are between the ages of 18 and 34.

High school senior Sarah Postlethwait has been a vegetarian since the age of 10 and pledged to become a vegan when she turned 17. “The main purpose of my veganism is to make myself feel better,” she said. It's a very intimate and personal thing for me, I have a close relationship with animals and I would never want to put one in my body.”

Twenty-eight year old Candace Spielman became a vegan on a whim after 12 years of vegetarianism. “I was in Trader Joe's, picking out groceries for the week, when I realized that most of what I ate was dairy-free anyway, so I decided hell, why not take it to the next step,’” she said.

“Veganism, for me, started as both a challenge to my lifestyle as well as a reaction to the knowledge I had gained about the treatment of animals in factory dairy farms and my personal belief that animals should not be forced to live a lifestyle to serve humans,” Spielman said.

Rebecca Stone, a senior at Concordia University, is a vegetarian for different reasons. “I consider myself an avid environmentalist and putting money into the meat industry goes against what I’m fighting for,” she stated. “Although I know it’s just as bad that I’ve started eating eggs in the past few years, no one is perfect, but not eating meat is one thing I can do, as one person, toward the causes I believe in.”

Alex Keipper, a senior at New York University, became a vegetarian in an effort to improve his health. “I was just trying to address my own over-consumption of meat when I realized that people don't need to eat meat three meals a day, and in fact, shouldn't,” he stated.

“As I started to cut down my intake, I began to realize how unimportant meat was to me, and that I generally felt better as I ate less of it, mostly from an ethical standpoint,” Keipper said.

According to the 2009 Journal of the American Dietetic Association, vegetarian diets can provide more than just moral benefits. The report stated, “appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.”        

Postlethwait believes that becoming a vegan has improved her health.

“I've lost weight, started working out more and I've gotten into the habit of making almost everything I eat from scratch. It's really useful because now I know exactly what goes into my food and that makes me feel a lot healthier,” she said.

Rebecca Stone has been a vegetarian her entire life. She stated, “I don’t know what it feels like to not be vegetarian, but I feel totally healthy. I think I’m a lot healthier than most meat eaters I know.”

The young adults that abide by these plant-based diets take the words vegetarian and vegan very seriously.

“I find myself getting uppity when people tell me they're a vegetarian and then say they eat fish. You're a pescatarian,” stated Keipper.  “To me being a vegetarian is about taking charge of the impact your eating has and…working towards a general responsibility in your eating practices…fish is meat.”

Stone agrees: “Vegetarian equals not consuming anything that was a living animal, some say anything that has a face. Some think eating fish is still vegetarian, but I say nay, fishes have faces, and are also industrially farmed.”

She also has a strict definition of veganism. She stated, “Vegan equals not consuming any animals or animal bi-products- meaning no honey, milk chocolate, wearing leather, down pillows, cheese, milk, eggs, no anything!”

Sami Fink, a senior at Concordia, sees vegetarianism “as a way of rejecting the culture of valuing economic benefit over reasonable living.”

She states, “I am no longer vegan…but I am still very passionate about ethical consumption and living. It’s about making the right choice, not the easiest choice.”

Spielman believes that living a compassionate lifestyle involves much more than simply nit-picking over trace-amounts of animal products.

“There are many other more effective ways to show your love for animals than not eating a slice of the banana bread your Grams lovingly made because it has a trace of dairy in it,” she said. “Go out and volunteer at an animal shelter. Work on your local co-op farm. Rescue an abused animal…Find out what is important to you as a do-gooder in the community as well as in the animal community… Live the most responsible animal-friendly lifestyle you can without significantly alienating yourself by your lifestyle choices.”

“Eating meat is one thing,” stated Hector, a senior at Hood College,  “manipulation of domestic breeds for mass slaughter and production is another.”

Keipper’s thinking follows on the same lines. “Being a vegetarian is about knowing what you eat, I think it's important to, at the very least, be aware of the ingredients in your food and what goes into producing them.”

“Working to consciously avoid food produced with animal ingredients is important to me because I don't believe animals should be harmed for me to eat or live, let alone eat trivial junk; but there is always room for error and I try to stay as aware and forgiving of this as possible,” he stated.

William Jordan, a 22 year old pharmacy technician, states, “I am not a vegan, I am not even a vegetarian, but I support the beliefs behind the lifestyle.”

“In the end,” he states, “the point of vegetarianism or veganism isn’t to create some exclusive, pretentious club, it’s to make choices which have a healthy impact on yourself, animals and the world around you.


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