Nevya Patel uses her own smarthpone to capture her holding a bowl of spiced vegetables, including onions, spinach and corn and black beans, which she eats as her healthy snack. She incorporated the beans to make sure she is still receiving protein because of the lack of meat intake.
My younger brother was 6 years old when he told me and my parents that he had eaten a little piece of pepperoni off his friend’s pizza one day.
My mom’s face screamed of horror. Her mouth fell open, her eyebrows scrunched up and her eyes wide open with shock.
“Huh? What did you say?” my mom asked with a trembling voice.
When my dad came home from work and heard this story, he turned pale and kept repeating: “Are you sure it was pepperoni? Are you lying?”
He had the most difficulty grasping the truth.
My brother sat with my parents with a perplexed look on his face. He genuinely did not know what he did wrong. He was oblivious to the fact that he had ignored the most important lesson our parents have been teaching me and him.
“Don’t you dare ever eat any meat again. Do you hear me?” my mom said with an angered tone.
I was glad that I was not as clueless as he was when I was at that same age.
The rest of that night was filled with lectures about never eating meat and how this mistake should not be committed again.
Yet, I could not help but ask my brother what it tasted it like.
His words were, “It was spicy at first, but I like it now.”
I was tempted to ask more, but if my mom had overheard, I knew that I was in for the same lecture.
This scenario stems from a decision my parents made long before I was born — to avoid becoming a carnivore.
Devoted followers of the Hindu religion — a belief that holds cows and other animals associated with gods, such as monkeys and elephants, sacred — my parents made sure they raised me to follow the same practice.
Being born in the United States, I have been asked by my peers on several occasions why I restrict myself to a vegetarian lifestyle when I live in America — the land of the free — and the answer is simple:
I am afraid of disappointing my parents, who have worked so hard to raise me a certain way, and I would not want to throw away this accomplishment I have held these 15 years of my life.
Many of my cousins are already in college with newly acquired freedom, and some have decided to rebel and go against our religious values. Their parents are not physically there to correct their mistakes, and they have taken that to their advantage.
Being the oldest in my household means I set the example for my younger siblings. After seeing the decision my cousins made about their diet, I don’t intend to follow in their path. Instead, I am more motivated than ever to adhere to my values and respect my parents’ beliefs.
Nevertheless, I still want to leave home when it’s time to graduate because I still want a sense of what it is like to survive on my own.
The one thing in my favor is that more people in the world are turning to this diet though not necessarily because of religious beliefs, but because of a lifestyle choice.
According to an online article from a fashion website, WTVOX, as of 2018, only 8 percent of the world’s population was composed of vegetarians and vegans. That is around 600 million people.
It is also a great feeling to know that I am doing some good in the world by saving some animals, but the struggle of living in a world where different people have different beliefs makes it difficult to remember the good I am doing.
Many times, it is hard to resist the food that my friends rave about endlessly, especially bacon and chicken.
At birthday parties or school trips, I’ve had to make statements like, “Oh, it’s OK if there’s nothing I can eat. I’ll be fine.”
Wait, that bacon burger actually looks really good. Oh my gosh, that sizzle. What harm can one bite do? Wait, what am I thinking? No way, I should not eat this, even if I am starving.
However, in the end, I am aware that the consequences that would follow would be more profound than I could fathom.
But I could not resist the urge to try to inform my parents of my temptation.
One night last February, I walked into their room and asked, “What would happen to me if I decided to eat meat?”
They did not have a calm response.
“Why would you want to do that? Did you already eat some?” my dad asked instead of offering a response to my question.
“No, I haven’t tried it, but I was just wondering,” I replied. Sadly, I could not continue to tell them my actual feelings.
In that moment, I came to the conclusion that sampling just a piece of a cooked animal’s flesh and confessing that to them or having them find out would not be worth the anguish that I would cause them.
Another frequently asked question that many people who discover my diet have asked is, “What do I eat?”
They assume that I survive off only fruits and vegetables as a snack with my main meals of the day being a salad.
However, let me make it crystal clear that I have only fully consumed one salad in my entire life.
My diet does consist of the average servings of fruits and vegetables as I make sure to eat plenty during the day, but it also includes various Indian meals from my mother.
Every week, she plans out all of our dishes, making sure our family eats rice and spiced vegetables at least once a week. With the rice comes a special sauce that is essential to my diet.
My mom tells me that it’s filled with protein and is beneficial for my health because I lack many sources of protein in my diet by not eating meat.
It is a struggle to meet the appropriate serving sizes from all the categories of the food pyramid, so I have to tolerate the meals that actually make me want to skip dinner (that is not an option either in my case).
At times, I do not receive the sufficient amount of this macronutrient, possibly resulting in an iron deficiency in my blood, like my mom. It has not been confirmed yet, but it can possibly lead to anemia — a condition resulting from low red blood cells.
This is something my mom is more cautious about in her own body, and her solution is taking iron supplements. After viewing my mom’s condition, I learned to be just as careful to make sure my health does not deteriorate.
My solution as a 15-year-old vegetarian is to eat plenty of lentils, spinach, dairy and nuts to save me from lacking other essential minerals in my diet.
Although I fear being influenced by my friends when I go to college, I am sure I can mature over the next couple of years before I graduate from high school.
Avoiding peer pressure is an issue I struggle with, but I think by responding with an emphatic, “No!” to decisions I do not want to make may be my best shot at steering clear from “friends” who might push me into trying meat.
One way I think I can counter this peer pressure would be to encourage vegetarianism among my friends. I understand their initial response would be a straightforward, “No,” but I think it may be possible by turning it into a habit for them.
It may not work, but at least I will have the satisfaction of knowing that I tried to face my peer pressure issue instead of ignoring it.
After several months of the pepperoni incident, I confronted my brother on whether he still remembers that unfortunate day. His eyes flashed wide open with terror when I brought up the conversation.
He reflected on his mistake and told me the truth: He, too, was never going to eat meat again.
Hearing his honesty made me realize that I would do a horrible wrong to my parents by betraying their beliefs.
I appreciate the morals my parents set forth for me, and I will do my best to erase any desires to disobey them.
In that instance, honoring my parents means much more than satisfying my baseless hunger for that beef patty or fried chicken.