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Vegetarian for a Month
January 20, 2012 by Howard Blas

Three teens succeeded in turning the month of February into a month of awareness.

Hold the hamburgers—it’s February. The month of February has become “Veguary” for hundreds of people around the world. A combination of the words vegetarian and February, Veguary describes a new trend to “pledge to be a veg,” or to commit to eliminating or reducing meat eating habits for one month each year. Initiated by three students at Manhattan’s Abraham Joshua Heschel School, Veguary is gaining popularity around the world as it encourages awareness of the problems that can be caused by overconsumption of meat.

Americans eat 27 billion pounds of beef and 38 billion pounds of poultry each year, according to the Veguary website. Eating too much meat has been associated with high cholesterol, cancer, obesity, and heart disease. The meat industry also negatively affects the environment by destroying rain forests, wasting water, and producing unhealthy greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, large slaughterhouses often mistreat their beef cattle—another cause for concern.

“February is a month of conscientious eating, not necessarily being a strict vegetarian,” says Andrew Udell, one of the students behind the Veguary movement. That’s why when he and his family do eat meat, they try to buy their meat from better places, like small local farms. Skyler Siegel, another Veguary organizer, adds, “The majority of vegetarians I have spoken to aren’t as concerned with animals being killed as they are with animals not being killed ethically.”

“Sustainability is a Jewish value,” notes Lizzie Davis, another Veguary organizer. “It has a lot to do with tikkun olam.” She points out that the small decisions we make in our lives add up. For example, Lizzie says that she and her friends bike everywhere. “We all use a ‘do-it-yourself’ approach to minimize the impact on the environment. We can’t take so much from the world and not give back.”

When Andrew, Lizzie, and Skyler started turning February into “Veguary” three years ago, they had no idea how far and wide their idea would travel. They have been contacted by newspapers in Canada and England, a radio station in Atlanta, and individuals from Israel to Mexico. Perhaps most exciting of all for the ambitious teens was the news that Veguary was adopted by Middlelbury College, where Andrew’s brother is a student. “They served organic products to 1,200 participants and had candles on all of the tables!”

In 2011, 770 people took the Veguary pledge to reduce or eliminate their meat consumption in the month of February. At press time, Veguary is on track to top that record in 2012, and the Veguary Facebook group already has 825 members.

As Tu B’Shevat approaches, it’s an especially appropriate time to consider our impact on the environment. “It is admirable that a group of high school students are taking the lead in increasing awareness about climate change, unhealthy diets, and the treatment of animals,” says Richard Schwartz, president of Jewish Vegetarians of North America and long-time environmental activist. “I hope these fine young pledgers will continue with their commitment to vegetarianism long beyond the month of ‘Veguary’ and will inspire many more to follow their example.”
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