Published by Diana Mendoza.

Back in the day, I worked at a pizza shop with some other nerdy kids. We skated in the parking lot, blasted the radio, argued over everything, and formed friendships that have lasted to this day. During one particularly slow shift, my vegetarian friend bet me that I couldn’t go vegetarian for a month. Never one to back down from a challenge, I shrugged and swore off my daily diet of double bacon cheeseburgers and pizza slices. For a month.

But it was a turning point that I never saw coming. During the following months, I became more aware of how the simple act of eating animals affects the world. Like the fact that the meat industry is the biggest cause of greenhouse gasses, and if we would all cut down on our meat intake, there’d be enough plant foods to end world hunger. And not only are animals exploited and abused, the slaughterhouse workers who are too desperate or scared to speak up are too. These are truths that stoked the ire in my young punk-rock heart. I read The Jungle, debated factory farms in class, and referenced Fast Food Nation in research papers.

Just before my birthday that same year, one of my favorite bands released their new CD, and I couldn’t wait to check out the music video that they’d included on the disc! Then I watched “Free Me,” and nothing was ever the same again. Who knew that one band could have the power to open my eyes—and the eyes of any person who watches this music video—to the horrors of factory farming and change the course of my entire life?

“Are you really that hungry?” Hungry enough to allow pigs—who are as smart as 3-year-old children—to be beaten, kicked, and stomped on? Hungry enough to warrant chickens living in a windowless, cement room getting their wings broken by a metal-rod-wielding worker? Hungry enough to watch cows used for dairy thrash around as they’re hung by their back leg from a chain with cut throats or “kosher” cows have their tracheas ripped out by human hands? Oh, hell no.

Going vegan is my own personal boycott, the proverbial middle finger to an industry that exploits its workers and millions of animals. The facts and the video footage are all over the Internet and in libraries, and the facts are evident in the recalls of bacteria-infected meat and the emaciated bodies of starving children all over the world.

I’ll admit it: In the beginning, I slipped from time to time. I’m not perfect, but I never gave up. For some reason, there’s this “all or nothing” attitude that feeds into the fear and helplessness that controls the collective consciousness of our society and stifles our instincts to think and act. People say, “I could never stop eating cheese,” and just give up, failing to realize that something as simple as boycotting McDonald’s or KFC still contributes to the fight for animal rights.

I’ve learned that the only way to battle apathy is action, and the easiest thing that we can do to take our power back is to start changing our everyday lives, choosing what to support, where to shop, and what to eat. It’s been quite the journey for this skateboarding, pizza-loving, punk-rock girl. So do it: Go vegan! And never forget that each day of your life is a chance to be heard and take a stand. Don’t waste it.

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