Dear 18-Year-Old Me,
I know what you’re thinking: who is this old guy, and why is he writing me a letter? I know you’re thinking these thoughts because I’m you, and you’re me, and even though we have 20 years separating us, some things haven’t changed. Luckily, some things have, which is why I’m writing to you today.
You’re about to make the most important decision of your life, except you don’t know that yet. I’m not talking about saying no to that Chumbawamba tattoo … I’m talking about going vegetarian when literally not a single person in your life is herbivorous. This letter is partially to commend you for the choice you are about to make, and partially because you’re making it. I say this because we both know how you are: angry, insecure, indecisive, and unsure of your abilities. And, because going vegetarian isn’t easy, especially when it’s 1997, you’ve been 18 years old for less than three weeks, and your idea of a salad is not removing the lettuce from a McDonald’s hamburger.
Let’s be honest, here: you’ve never been good at making decisions. I’m happy to report that you will improve in this aspect of your life, but you’ll always struggle. With this in mind, perhaps you are the only person who sees the irony in your commitment to vegetarianism. During your 20s, you’ll be late for work numerous times because you spent too much time deciding which vintage shirt to wear. And with vintage shirts comes a greasy pompadour that you absolutely have to perfect before riding your bike to your newspaper job. You’ll have a girlfriend for 11 years (I know, right?), and although most of those years will be good, you won’t be able to marry her because you’re afraid of committing to anyone or anything for the rest of your life. Except, of course, being vegetarian.
You weren’t raised to think about animal exploitation, and we both know mom and dad don’t understand the path on which you are about to embark (don’t worry—eventually, mom totally gets it, while dad will continue to offer you pumpkin pie made with animal products on Thanksgiving), but for some reason, you will never have one iota of doubt that being vegetarian is the right choice for you. And each time someone asks you how you do it, or if you miss meat, there will be zero hesitation. The answer is and forever will be a resounding “no.”
In a few years, you’ll become vegan. I wish I could tell you when this will happen, but I don’t know. You see, you’re about to decide not to eat turkey on Thanksgiving 1997 in what you’ll call a “one-day protest.” You feel bad for those birds and think those news reports in which a television journalist is standing amongst hundreds of turkeys at a factory farm is sickening and cruel. You feel for those turkeys, although you might not have ever really thought about turkeys. Still, something inside you is telling you that eating turkeys is not the kind of life you want to live. You might be 18 and wrong about a lot of things, but this isn’t one of them.
Slowly, you’ll remove one animal-based product from your life at a time because you realize that the logic behind being an ethical vegetarian is the same reason why you shouldn’t consume cheese, whey, or milk. Without anyone’s guidance, really, you’ll come to these conclusions for reasons you still won’t comprehend at 38. I mean, you exemplify the saying “young and dumb,” but, somehow, inside that chaotic teenage brain of yours, you’ll understand that eating animals is just plain wrong.
You didn’t go vegetarian or vegan for a girl, because your favorite musician said it was cool, or because you watched a documentary. Those reasons, mind you, are totally acceptable for going vegan because it won’t take long for you to understand that you can help animals a lot more by encouraging new vegans than you can by telling them their reasoning is dumb. This, too, is ironic seeing as how you think pretty much everyone and everything is dumb. Then again, you’re 18.
Veganism is going to allow you to do some very cool things. You’ll cover new products and write restaurant reviews for your newspaper job and parlay that into a freelance career writing for some of the biggest papers in Los Angeles. Sure, you won’t get rich writing vegan blog posts, but you will meet a lot of interesting people and help spread the vegan message. Soon, you’ll discover that being published while subtly promoting veganism is your definition of “rich” (although a few extra zeros in the bank account wouldn’t hurt).
These years of covering veganism will allow you to become an editor at a vegan magazine with a worldwide reach. Your job, day in and day out, will be to write and edit stories about one of only two things that has ever really mattered to you (this job will have to do, as being the starting point guard for the Los Angeles Lakers never happens).
Don’t be scared, but your life will change overnight because of the decision you are about to make. For that, and all the good that will come from this supposed “one-day protest,” you should be thankful.
An Older, More Handsome You
PS While I have your attention … now seems like a good time to mention that you’re finally getting braces when you turn 21, and you will still have nightmares about them when you’re 38.
Ryan Ritchie is the VegNews.com Features Editor who is excited to see where his next 20 years of vegetarianism will take him.