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Illustration by Flor Carolina Barillas, 16, South Gate HS

By Emily Bai, 15, Arcadia HS

When I told my family about this challenge, they laughed in my face because they know that I am a meat lover and I failed a vegetarian challenge before. A year ago when I was researching animal cruelty for a school project, I came across a website that was promoting a 30-day vegetarian challenge. I signed up because I thought it was good to encourage people to stop animal abuse by not eating meat. 

It was an epic fail. By dinner I had forgotten I wasn’t supposed to eat meat and only remembered when dinner was over. By the time the notification email came to tell me the challenge was over, I had already forgotten about it. My family loved to tease me about it. But for this challenge they stocked up on one week’s worth of tofu, vegetables and fruit for me. I was kind of scared, wondering how long my willpower would hold this time. 

The first day we had a party in class with bacon and waffles. The strips of crispy bacon made my mouth water but I got only a waffle and read a book for the rest of class, refusing the temptation of bacon. 

The second day there was another party, and this time there was pepperoni pizza. I got cheese pizza, but the pepperoni seemed so much more delicious. I wasn’t too happy those two days. And I wasn’t too happy in the days after.

Every dinner I would get bland stir-fried tofu, and I could only watch as my family devoured delicious teriyaki chicken, curry beef or pork chops. After three days I was sick of tofu. Every day my cravings for meat got worse. Then when my tofu came, I would force myself to eat it without really tasting it. Sometimes I would just eat some bread, peanut butter and vegetables instead and leave my tofu untouched. Mealtime became torture. I was so glad when the week ended. 

But there was some good with it. I discovered almond milk while browsing the vegetarian websites. I tried it because I wanted to try something new, and I loved it. It tasted better than real milk. I also didn’t feel tired throughout the day. In the mornings I would feel more awake, and I didn’t laze in bed not wanting to get up. I felt proud of myself because I completed this challenge, unlike the last one. I also learned that my willpower is stronger than I thought. 

I think the life of a vegetarian isn’t easy. It could work for some people, but after a week I had had enough. Although I lost my extra energy, I like meat better so I’m glad to go back to meat. 

By Renzo San Juan, 15, Belmont HS

On the first day I skipped lunch because the cafeteria was serving hamburgers. I came home dizzy with my stomach growling so I ran to the fridge but was let down by what I found inside: pork, beef cutlets, rotten fruit and mushy lettuce. I grabbed the last three pieces of bread in the pantry, including the end part that everyone hates, and made toast. Then I shoved handfuls of crackers and cookies in my mouth. My parents came home later with groceries. I told them about me being a vegetarian for a week. I should’ve told them the day before but my sister tried to be vegetarian once and it stressed my mom out so I thought I would keep this one to myself. I got some of the groceries to make a salad for lunch the next day.

On Tuesday I ate my salad while my meat-loving friends said, “What the heck are you eating, man?” The dressing tasted rotten so I didn’t bother finishing it. I went to my classes hungry and tired. I came home wondering whether I should continue the challenge. But then I walked into the kitchen and found my mom cooking vegetarian meals to feed me for the next three days. I kissed her on the cheek and had some of her vegetable medley with mushrooms, spinach, onions and broccoli. 

After school on Wednesday, my mom taught me how to prepare her veggie pasta. The recipe: lots of red and green bell peppers (my favorite), mushrooms, vermicelli noodles and some garlic. It was great! However, even with all the good food I was eating, I noticed that I got tired faster while running or playing volleyball. I researched what might be wrong. I found out that vegetarians might not get enough iron, zinc and protein. My parents told me to take multivitamins daily and eat peanuts, which are high in zinc. I realized that being vegetarian is more than not eating meat. I still have to make sure I stay healthy.

My energy started improving. The next few days passed by like a breeze because I always had something good to eat, whether it was Thai red veggie curry takeout or huevos rancheros I made at home. When my parents or my sister took me to restaurants, I thought that I would have limited choices but instead my eyes were opened to vegetarian dishes that I never noticed before, like veggie rolls, chop suey and my favorite, avocado sushi.

After a week of not eating meat I felt great. I tried to continue being a vegetarian but my parents encouraged me to be a pescetarian (you eat fish but not any other type of meat) because it would be easier. I’m cool with that because I love seafood. It’s a good stepping stone to becoming a full vegetarian in the long run.

By Austin Skootsky, 16, Hamilton HS

I’ve met many vegetarians, and my first thought always is, “They’ll never be able to eat [insert delicious meat product here].” Some of my favorite foods are bacon sandwiches and sushi, and I always thought that not eating meat would be tough, even for just one week.

Except, it wasn’t.

My mother has always been one of those super health-conscious people (the kind who willingly eat kale). So when I told her I was going to be vegetarian for a week, she didn’t mind. My breakfasts remained nearly the same: eggs with toast or yogurt and granola. Dinners were also relatively unchanged because my mom often cooks vegetarian dishes: pizza with leafy vegetables and olives, pasta with sundried tomatoes, and eggplant parmesan.

Lunch was my biggest difficulty. I almost always eat a beef or turkey sandwich for lunch. Before the challenge, it had never occurred to me that I ate meat nearly every day! To solve this problem, we found a thermos and I ate leftovers from whatever dinner we had the night before.

Ironically, though, it was so easy to be vegetarian that I forgot I was doing the challenge, and on the second to last day, I ate beef jerky during a classroom potluck. I didn’t even realize I had failed until hours later! When I did, I laughed and had to explain to my family what was so funny.

Doing the challenge, I became more conscious of how much meat I eat, which has made me feel more guilty about what I eat (mostly for environmental reasons, such as the amount of energy and water needed to raise one cow), but it hasn’t actually changed my diet. As long as In-N-Out exists, I’ll likely never give up meat.

By Camille Didelot-Hearn, 16 Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies

I’m known in my family as “the carnivore.” My older sister just left for college and she’s planning on being a vegetarian because she loves animals, but I think she’s crazy. I love eating my dad’s tri-tip, chicken, ribs and steak. However, I am always up for a challenge, so I was ready to take this one on. I thought it could be healthy for me, since one of my New Year’s resolutions was to eat healthier. But trying to be a vegetarian in a meat-eating world was hard.

The first day, I woke up to the smell of sizzling bacon. I waltzed into the kitchen and grabbed a piece before my mom reminded my that I couldn’t have any. It was torture watching my family eat that bacon in front of me while I sadly ate my cereal, but I did it and I was proud of myself. I made it a whole two days before the first incident. 

My family and I were at the dinner table, eating artichokes with a cream sauce. As soon as I finished, I was in the middle of saying how happy I was that this vegetarian challenge was going so well when my dad blurted out that there was a dry veal base in the sauce. He’d completely forgotten about the challenge. But I realized it wasn’t my fault, so I moved on, looking forward to the rest of the meatless week.

The second incident was when I slept over at my friend’s house. I forgot to tell them that I was going vegetarian for the week, so when my friend’s stepdad offered me steak, telling me how he had made it just for me because he knows that I love it, I couldn’t say no. I couldn’t resist the smell and I didn’t want to be rude and not eat the food that he had specially prepared for me. I felt guilty while eating it, but my mom said that I did the right thing. 

Between these incidents, I would find myself opening the fridge and staring at the leftover steak but proudly resisting it and eating vegetables or even fruit with my dinner. I would sometimes go to bed hungry, but I would ignore it until the morning. My family eats meat a lot. We didn’t have any substitutes for protein that I could eat, so I was stuck with whatever was in our fridge.

The third (and last) incident happened when I was baby-sitting. The girls who I baby-sit always eat lunch whenever I come over, and I have some of it because I get hungry too. This is like second nature to me so when I ate the small piece of bologna, I didn’t even think about it until I got home. I was in the middle of telling my family how my day went when I realized that I ate a slice of bologna, which is certainly not vegetarian.

By Alexia Sison
18, Marshall HS (2012 graduate)

As soon as I heard about the challenge to give up meat for a week, I wanted to participate. Whenever I’ve asked my vegetarian friends if it was hard to become a vegetarian, they always made it seem like it was easy. Instead of pepperoni pizza or chicken nuggets during lunch, they eat cheese pizza or egg sandwiches. They’ve even encouraged me to try switching. I had been tempted but trading a hamburger for a salad seemed scary to me. But since the L.A. Youth challenge was going vegetarian for only a week, I tried it.

I usually ate something meaty for breakfast, lunch and dinner, so for the challenge, my family and I went to Costco and bought pre-made falafel wraps, veggie burgers, cereal and some fruit.

The day before I started going vegetarian we went to a buffet restaurant for my mom’s birthday and I filled my plate with sushi, fried chicken, steak and lobster. I felt a sense of happiness after I ate nearly all the meat on my plate.

The first day, which was a Saturday, was hard. My sister cooked breakfast. I smelled the Spam as I heard it sizzle on the frying pan. Watching my mom and sister put the slices of spam into their mouths, I was ready to ditch my bowl of granola.

For the next couple of days, I learned that being a vegetarian wasn’t so easy. On Monday, I was about to eat ramen. But I realized that even if it was just noodles, I still couldn’t eat it because the broth had chicken. And on Tuesday, for lunch my mom cooked what we thought was a vegetarian-friendly Filipino dish, but it required a special kind of salt made out of shrimp. I made an eggplant omelette instead. Most of the time, I ate veggie burgers and cheese pizzas. I missed eating meat so much!

But a family dinner at Souplantation showed me that there were other vegetarian-friendly options, like macaroni and cheese, salad and minestrone soup. This was a relief. After eating there, I started to explore vegetarian foods other than cheese pizzas like Szechwan eggplant, a Chinese dish with eggplants stir-fried in a spicy sauce, and vegetable harvest soup.

I managed to survive the challenge. Even though I didn’t become a vegetarian, I’m now eating more fruits and vegetables. I even started to prefer Chinese fried noodles with tofu to the regular fried noodles with seafood. In the end, I realized that being a vegetarian isn’t easy but I like vegetables more.

Ever since the challenge, I’ve been eating more fruits and vegetables. I’m still including meat in my diet because meat is a great source of protein. It was a tough challenge and seemed like the longest week ever, but I made it through! 

By Emily Bader
15, Cleveland HS (Reseda)

My family eats meat at almost every meal. We joke about how we would never last going without eating meat, since it is so usual to have things like steak for dinner, cold cuts for lunch, and sometimes bacon for breakfast on the weekends. I wanted to do this mostly to see if I could, and I wanted to know how much my diet would change by going vegetarian. I’ve always known that overloading on red meat isn’t good for you, and this challenge was an opportunity for me to find healthier options.

When I told my parents about the challenge my mom said that she was going to not eat red meat for the week, which I thought was good so that I wasn’t the only one giving something up.

The first few days were the hardest because all I wanted was a hamburger. I was watching an episode of How I Met Your Mother in which Marshall searches for the best burger he ever ate. Watching it, my stomach growled just watching. Just my luck, I watch TV, and it’s about burgers! Everywhere I looked there was meat!

I tried to eat foods that had protein because I wasn’t getting protein from meat. The first few days, I had a couple of eggs with toast for breakfast, which filled me up. One day, I went to grab some of the tuna salad my mom had made for lunch. When I realized I couldn’t eat it, I made a PB&J sandwich. I didn’t eat meat substitutes, like tofu though. I’ve had tofu before, but I don’t know how to prepare it, and it looked gross.

Toward the end of the week when I was getting tired of eating eggs and grilled cheese, I went to Trader Joe’s with my mom to look for dinner food that didn’t have meat. I got a bean and rice burrito, pesto tortellini and a lot of fruit, like cherries and grapes. The meals with food from Trader Joe’s were really tasty.

The toughest thing was trying to find something to eat when I was out. One afternoon my family went to Subway so I had to figure out something to order. Before going, I looked up their menu online to see what vegetarian sandwiches they. I got a wheat roll with a whole bunch of vegetables, like avocado, lettuce and onion. Halfway through, it started to taste really gross to me. I wanted a meatball sub!

Once the week was over, I didn’t go running for the most meaty and greasy meal I could find, I just went back to eating meals with my family. I was surprised that it was pretty easy to eat vegetarian, but I’m sure that if it was for more than a week I would go crazy wanting a steak. I ate healthier because I was putting more thought into what I was eating, and I didn’t get that gross feeling from eating greasy, overloaded food. A couple of nights a week I’m going to try something besides meat or poultry.

PS—My mom went the whole week eating no chicken or red meat.