Kristen Curtis, Student Life Editor

Many young vegetarians face criticism and stigmatization due to their personal beliefs and decisions. Vegetarians face a variety of challenges – from craving meat to family conflict because of their decisions but they argue that it is worth it for them.

A vegetarian is defined as someone who consumes a diet that does not include red meat, fish or fowl. Most vegetarians are comfortable consuming eggs and dairy products, but it is an individual decision. Followers of veganism, the increasingly trendy and strict off-shoot of vegetarianism will not consume any products that contain animal ingredients including eggs, dairy products and even honey.

According to the Dieticians of Canada approximately four per cent of adults in Canada follow a vegetarian diet. Vegetarianism is most popular among younger people. According to Charles Stahler, co-director of the Vegetarian Resource Group, vegetarianism is on the rise among college and university students. Many Laurier Brantford students identify themselves as vegetarians.

Madison Hawkins is a third year journalism student at Laurier Brantford. She has been a vegetarian for six years. While Vivian Yiu, also a third year Laurier Brantford student has been a vegetarian for about three or four months.

Both Hawkins and Yiu cite compassion-focused reasons as their basis for becoming vegetarians. Hawkins says, “I don’t know what really made me decide to become vegetarian. I just remember slowly thinking about how what I was eating was an animal. My mom used to make me bologna sandwiches for lunch and I just slowly began to throw them out because the meat grossed me out. I felt like I was doing something wrong by eating it.”

One of Yiu’s university courses solidified her decision to become a vegetarian, she says. “Well, part of it was because a professor of mine showed our class a video of how chickens were being treated and slaughtered,” Yiu said. “It wasn’t exactly new information, but watching and actually witnessing it gave me a whole new perspective. Another reason why I decided to become a vegetarian was because I found that I didn’t feel so good whenever I ate meat. For some reason I felt sick afterwards.”

The decision to become a vegetarian is a very personal one and may involve a multitude of factors and reasons. According to the Toronto Vegetarian Association, the most common reasons for becoming a vegetarian include environmental (eating foods that are low on the food chain such as plants help to reverse wilderness destruction, soil erosion, energy waste and pollution.), health-related (vegetarians are at lower risk for heart disease, many types of cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, food poisoning, and obesity), cultural (vegetarianism has been part of many diets including that of India and Ethiopia for centuries) and compassion-focused (more than 400 million animals were slaughtered in Canada last year, most were raised in cramped, overcrowded spaces, artificially bred, separated from their young, fed growth hormones and denied sunlight and fresh air).

Vegetarians face many challenges. Hawkins has faced criticism and opposition from her family.

“My family was not supportive at all,” Hawkins said. “They still aren’t very open to the idea. I get harassed and told to eat meat all the time. It is often a big family discussion. My dad hates the idea and gets upset about it sometimes, I think just because of the health issues of not eating right and [not] getting enough protein.”

Yiu’s family was much more supportive of her decision than she expected. She consulted a dietician to ease her mother’s concerns about her diet.

“In short, I just make sure I’m well educated and knowledgeable about my [food] options,” she said.

Hawkins and Yiu both agree that a challenge of being a vegetarian is dealing with preconceived notions that people have about what vegetarians are like.

Yiu says, “For some reason, people have some stereotypes about vegetarians. I tell someone that I don’t eat meat and sometimes I get strange looks. It’s not like it’s out of the ordinary, so I’d just like people to know that we’re just like you! We just live a different lifestyle.”

A stereotype that people often associate with vegetarians is someone who is pushy and extreme when it comes to their beliefs.
“I find that sometimes when I talk to people about the reason why I became a vegetarian, they get kind of defensive and think I’m trying to push my beliefs onto them,” Yiu said, “So it’s difficult to spread the word about important issues like animals being brutally slaughtered and raised in often cruel conditions, since it seems like some people just don’t want to hear about it at all. I’m not saying that everyone should be vegetarians, because ultimately it’s an extremely personal choice. However, it wouldn’t hurt to be educated about the topic. There’s not much I can do in terms of dealing with it. Sometimes I just don’t talk about it.”

Both Hawkins and Yiu confess to something that is very taboo in vegetarian circles but is a common challenge: they crave meat.

Hawkins says, “I crave meat ALL the time. Like I sometimes throw hissy fits because I can’t find anything that will solve my craving. I have a tendency to binge eat because of it.”

Yiu adds that, “after [spending] twenty years of my life eating meat, it’s kind of unrealistic to expect no cravings at all. At first, when the images of the video from my class were still fresh in my mind, I couldn’t even look at meat. After a while of not having it though, I started craving it again. It comes and goes.”

Vegetarianism is a lifestyle that extends beyond what is on one’s plate.

“Certainly it’s about what I eat, but I think there is definitely more to it than that,” Yiu said. “There were so many reasons for my decision to switch to vegetarianism: my own way of protesting the way animals are treated in the food industry, to live a better and healthier lifestyle, and just plain curiosity – would I be able to survive as a vegetarian after so many years of meat eating?”

Hawkins agrees. “Being vegetarian is more than just not eating meat to me. I try to not buy products that are tested on animals, or clothing that contains wool or leather,” she said. “Although, I will admit I do have the odd item that is leather. Which is awful, it honestly keeps me up at night sometimes but, they were gifts.”

When reflecting on her lifestyle, Hawkins says, “[There are] so many challenges with being a vegetarian! If I could change one thing about me it would be that I didn’t care so much about animals and could eat meat. Just thinking about what I am going to eat everyday is frustrating… Going out for dinner is hard too, [it] is especially hard when going on dates, because most guys want to bring you to a fancy restaurant and those fancy restaurants are usually steakhouses! So I’ve learned to be more upfront about it and snack before going out to any restaurant!”

Hawkins would like her peers to know that, “We [vegetarians] are normal people… we just simply choose a cruelty-free diet.”

In recent times, many well known musicians, celebrities and athletes have ‘come out’ as being vegetarians. Vegetarians – whether they are singers or students, may vary in their beliefs and backgrounds but are united by their struggles and personal successes.