Emily Meredith
Emily Meredith

About a year ago, I wrote a blog about how animal rights activists are heavily targeting college students in an effort to raise the next generation of vegans and vegetarians and to disparage modern animal agriculture.

Between People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals’ “Glass Walls Project” to the “Humane Society University” sending speakers (including President Wayne Pacelle) to Colorado State University, animal rights activists are trying—and succeeding—in convincing impressionable young minds that the grass on the campus ‘quad’ is greener if you’re a vegan.

About a year ago, I wrote about one such college student, my cousin Martha. Martha has always been an ambitious and adventurous young woman. She even studied abroad in high school for an entire year, which I know I would have been too homesick to do, especially at such a young age.

But when Martha was abroad, she didn’t eat much meat, and came home forgetting about the deliciousness of meat, milk and eggs. As I wrote in my original post:

“I started noticing it six, or so, months ago: some particularly ‘veggie heavy’ recipes in the annual family exchange, a few Pinterest posts tagging ‘Meatless Mondays.’ It was a slow build, but soon enough my teenage cousin was visiting my family, sitting at my mother’s Sunday table and refusing bacon: ‘I’m a vegetarian.’

“‘Excuse me, what?’ It’s true, came the reply—she’s sworn off turkey on Thanksgiving, her beloved ham roll-ups, burgers, hot dogs, and of course, bacon. The only silver lining is that she’s still eating cheese (otherwise I don’t know if our home state of Wisconsin would ever forgive her!). My cousin is off to college this fall and will likely be packing newly acquired vegetarian habits in the U-haul along with her bedding and shower caddy.”

I’m all for consumer choice, and after working for this industry for most of my adult life, I’ve quickly come to recognize that if consumers want it, farmers will find a way to produce it. It’s our freedom of choice that makes our country different, and that bounty at the grocery store is what allows us to have opinions and make personal decisions for our families and ourselves.

So while I was a little surprised by my cousin’s decision, it was 100 percent her right to choose what works for her and what her preferences were: and I had no right to say one word about it.

So I didn’t. Not even once. And trust me, it was a little hard (especially when she would share articles from PETA or HSUS on her Facebook feed!!).

But just a few weeks ago, I was traveling near where she goes to college and wanted to see her to catch up in person. Knowing her dietary restrictions, I let her pick the place—and when we got there—I took a quick perusal of the menu and said, “Martha, I don’t think they’re going to have enough options for you here, maybe we should go somewhere else.”

“Oh don’t worry, I’m not a vegetarian anymore.”

Hold the phone. Where did that come from? I was shocked, given that just a few short months ago she was as committed to the cause as they come.

She explained that she had been out running this summer (she’s a marathon runner and trains a lot. A LOT) and when she got home, she felt lightheaded and woozy, a feeling that had grown very familiar to her.

She told her dad, “I feel like I just need some chicken. Can you make me some chicken?”

And though she didn’t say that she instantly felt better, she said that the addition of lean protein back into her diet made all the difference in terms of her energy level, stamina when running and working out, and even her mood. She wasn’t hungry or feeling lightheaded anymore.

She was feeling full and ready to tackle the world (OK, I’m paraphrasing on this last one, but I do PR for a living, what do you expect?).

My cousin’s rationale behind dropping tofu and picking up a plate of turkey aren’t uncommon—we hear those reasons a lot, actually. Last year, when the Alliance surveyed the participating schools and organizations listed on the Meatless Monday website, we discovered that the campaign wasn’t nearly as popular as it was made out to be. We heard from countless school lunch ladies and nutritionists that the kids were hungry, cranky, and didn’t have energy for their after-school sports.

There’s something to be said for embracing choice, but there’s also something to be said for not getting caught up in a “popular” trend—like activists groups are trying to make veganism out to be—and instead really listening to your body and fueling it with the protein and nutrients it needs.

The good news is that a lot of the college students “going vegan” are quickly recognizing that it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.

But we knew that all along.