By Addy Boettcher, 16, Marymount HS
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Addy is looking forward to making the cheesecake recipe in her new cookbook, Vegan Planet.

Last month I went out to dinner with some people I didn’t know very well. I looked at the menu and I wasn’t sure what to order. Almost everything was meat or fish. Because I am a vegan, I don’t eat meat, fish, dairy or eggs. One of them asked if I was interested in getting the shrimp. “Actually, I’m vegan,” I said. They looked surprised and asked if I was OK eating there. I told them it was fine and ordered a salad with lettuce and some carrot strips.

People apologize for eating meat around me, but it doesn’t gross me out to see people eat it and I don’t want them to feel like they have to apologize to me for what they eat. I’m not extreme about my lifestyle, but most people expect me to be when they hear that I’m vegan.

I never thought I’d be a vegan. Three years ago, I had a few close school friends who decided to stop eating meat. I was shocked that they could give up meat, which I absolutely loved. My family used to eat meat all the time; my dad liked deli foods and my mom made a lot of chicken for us. I loved cheeseburgers, ribs and even hot wings. I didn’t believe my friends when they said it was such an easy change for them.

Over the next year I started to understand why they didn’t eat meat. My vegetarian friends sent me all kinds of links to websites on being a vegetarian. The sites showed really graphic videos of animals being slaughtered. I saw cows hung by their feet and having their throats slit and chickens having their beaks seared off. The whole process grossed me out and made me really sad.

Seeing animals slaughtered, I wanted to do something

Illustration by Addy Boettcher, 16, Marymount HS

Looking at those websites encouraged me to dig deeper and find more articles and information. The sites I looked at promoted being vegan. I agreed with the idea that just because we are stronger and smarter than animals, we don’t have the right to raise and kill them in large numbers inhumanely. I came to a point where I felt like I needed and really wanted to change my diet because of what I learned about animal cruelty. I’ve always loved animals, especially because of all the pets I’ve had growing up, and being vegan seemed like the next step.

But I didn’t even know if I could give up meat, let alone everything else. As a vegan, I would have to stop eating meat and fish, as well as milk, cheese, eggs and any other animal products. I also wouldn’t wear leather, fur, wool or silk and would have to change my beauty products to make sure they were “cruelty free,” meaning they were not made with animal products or tested on animals.

I started out as a vegetarian when I was 14, excluding meat and fish from my diet. In the beginning I ate a lot more dairy than usual, just trying to avoid eating meat. I ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches every day for lunch and a lot of grilled cheese. My life didn’t feel any different because I didn’t feel like I had lost anything. Even though I wasn’t eating meat anymore, I knew the animals that were producing my dairy products and eggs were being treated just as cruelly as the cows that steak comes from. Dairy cows are constantly kept pregnant so that they can produce milk. In online videos, I saw them living in crates so small that they couldn’t turn around. Eventually they’re slaughtered, but by that time a lot of them can’t even walk, so they’re dragged to the slaughterhouse. After a couple months of being a vegetarian, I woke up one morning and decided to become a vegan.

Being a vegan was easy for me even in the beginning because I wanted to do it. When I saw foods that had once been appetizing to me, like a cheeseburger, I didn’t see food anymore. I saw everything the meat had been through and how it had been processed just to get to people’s plates. Cheeseburgers no longer made my mouth water; they grossed me out.

I didn’t make a big announcement. I initially just told my mom and she started cooking for me differently, like sautéing vegetables with olive oil instead of butter. The rest of my family probably saw it as a phase. Before I became vegan, I had eggs in the morning, a turkey sandwich at lunch and chicken for dinner. My diet was full of meat. That changed to granola and fruit in the morning, a veggie burger for lunch and a lot of tofu.

Becoming vegan affected more than my diet. In the first week of going vegan, I gave a lot of my shoes and clothes to my sister. I gave away about five pairs of shoes because they were made of leather. A few of my jeans had leather labels. When I looked at the clothes I really liked but had to give away, it was almost like I stopped caring about them and didn’t want them anymore, kind of the way you feel about your old clothes when you get new ones. My mom told me Payless has shoes that aren’t made with leather. So I started buying my shoes there. It’s convenient but the shoes don’t last very long.

It took me tons of research to understand the lifestyle. At first, I got my information from PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) because they had a lot of information on their website. On PETA’s, there is a “Meet the Animals” section where there is a list of animals—pigs, cows, chickens, fish, ducks and turkeys. You can click on the animals to see videos of how they’re slaughtered and read statistics and other information. However, I don’t support PETA anymore. Once, I went to a PETA rally to protest KFC, but didn’t get out of the car because the people were running up to cars and yelling, “Meat is murder!” It made me nervous and I didn’t want to be there.

Bummed I couldn’t eat gummy worms

Meeting other vegans made it even easier and we were able to educate each other. The only difficult thing was learning all the cans and cannots. I used Google to find a list of foods I couldn’t eat and I found a surprising amount of blogs with vegans discussing food. At first a lot of off-limit foods were surprising, like gelatin, made from the collagen inside animals’ connective tissue, which you can find in a lot of chewy candies and marshmallows. There are also a lot of synonyms for dairy products, such as whey (which comes from milk). I was also surprised at what I could eat, such as Swedish Fish, a gummy candy. I had to get used to reading every ingredient on every thing I wanted to buy. There are a lot of things that you wouldn’t expect to contain animal products, yet still do. Certain cereals, for example, are fortified with Vitamin D3, which comes from animals. At first it was tedious. I couldn’t just pick something and buy it. I’d pick something, read it, be disappointed and put it back. Gummy worms always disappointed me when I wanted to buy them because they are made with gelatin. It took about six months, but I’ve gotten really good at scanning ingredients and it’s almost second nature to me now.

After I became a vegan, I immediately felt different. None of the food I eat weighs me down anymore and I always feel like I’m eating something healthy. However, it’s really easy not to eat the most nutritious diet. The hardest part is getting the proper amounts of protein, calcium and especially iron. I am iron deficient. My fingers and toes get especially cold in the winter and I am light headed a lot, which has caused me to faint a few times. It would be easy to take care of things like that by taking vitamin supplements to make up for what I’m missing. But I don’t because I don’t want to have another thing to remember every day. My diet still isn’t properly balanced but I’m working on it.

If you stay on top of it, it can be one of the healthiest diets. The foods in a vegan diet have little or no cholesterol and fat, and help lower blood pressure as well as the risk for heart disease, cancer and strokes due to lower cholesterol levels. Before I researched it, I heard things like “veganism is another excuse for an eating disorder,” which my sister told me. You can surprisingly eat a lot as a vegan, and the food is just as good despite what most people think. I love eating cheeseless pizza, pasta and Indian food, which has lots of seasoned vegetables.

Finding food has never been difficult. Whole Foods and even Ralph’s have a lot of vegan items. Going out to eat has been much more difficult than finding food at a grocery store. I only eat at restaurants about two or three times a month and when I do I have to ask a lot of questions about how the food is prepared. Once, when eating dinner with my dad, I ordered a tamale. I asked the waiter whether it was cooked in grease, which is animal fat, or vegetable oil. Even after he explained that it was cooked in vegetable oil, my dad insisted on arguing with me and with the waiter. It didn’t bother me. In the end, he realized I was right and was surprised that something he thought could never be vegan turned out to be.

Now that I have been a vegan for almost two years, it seems completely normal to me. But it’s still unusual to other people. I’m used to constant questions about what I can and cannot eat, and why on earth I would ever make such a drastic change in my life. The question I get most often is whether or not the food I’m eating is vegan. A lot of people think that all bread has either milk or eggs in it, which it doesn’t. Sometimes friends even ask me if they can read the ingredients so they can double check for me. It gets tiresome sometimes, but I don’t mind.

I respect everyone’s views and hope they do the same for me. I would never expect someone to change their diet or look down on them for not wanting to be vegan. In fact, I completely understand where they are coming from. I used to be that person. I don’t expect the whole world to stop consuming meat and I know that’s not likely. I just want people to know why I’m a vegan and that it was one of the best decisions I ever made.

My family has stood by me

I am really lucky to have such supportive parents, even if my huge carnivore of a father still makes jokes about it occasionally, laughing at me if I eat something flimsy like bean sprouts or offering me meat when he knows I won’t eat it. But despite the jokes, my parents support me 100 percent. Without even having to ask, my mom makes me separate meals and buys me vegan foods. My dad also included some new vegan items on the menu at his restaurant, like tacos with grilled vegetables (they are surprisingly just as good as the tacos I used to eat). It would have been a lot harder if my family hadn’t approved from the start, which I am really grateful for.

I don’t think being vegan will change the world, but it’s the best way to detach myself from systems that abuse animals. Becoming vegan not only changed the way I live my life, but also the way I think about animals. They’re more than just products to me. I respect them and believe that taking a life is taking a life. Reading about animal cruelty still upsets me but I feel more at peace because of the changes I have made in my life. I feel like I’m doing my part to save the animals.


Vegetarians don’t eat meat or fish. Vegans don’t eat any foods that come from animals, such as meat, fish, dairy or eggs. They don’t wear clothes or shoes made from materials that come from animals such as leather, wool, silk or fur. They are also conscious of the cosmetics they use and make sure products are not tested on animals and no animal byproducts are in them.

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No meat for me. Vegetarianism is just one of the ways 18-year-old Connie expresses her respect for animals. (October 2005)