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Teenagers, Vegetarianism and an Important Rite of Passage

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On Sunday, since there was at least two hours of sunshine interspersing the driving rain, we invited our extended family round for a barbecue.

Before going food shopping, I asked my sister what I should get for my nephew to eat, since three months earlier he had followed in my niece's footsteps and Gone Vegetarian.

'He's eating meat again,' my sister replied. 'But don't mention it, you'll embarrass him.'

Ah, the brief flirtation with vegetarianism. Somewhere up there in the teenage rebellion league as Painting Your Room Black, Coming Home Drunk and Piercing Your Own Ear.

At school and uni, I remember some my friends declaring proudly that they were vegetarian (adding that they 'only' ate 'fish and chicken').

Not me. I went hell for - er, non-leather. I wasn't vegan, but I definitely didn't eat chicken or fish. I ate lentils. Vegetables. A lot of pasta.

My parents, who had both been brought up to eat whatever they were given otherwise go hungry (both had experienced rationing), struggled with the concept of cooking me Something Different from the carnivourous offerings everyone else was eating. (Neither of them were ever teenagers, both reaching the age of 18 before the concept had been invented. Even now, my mother worries that my niece 'isn't healthy' because she doesn't eat meat.)

So I started cooking for myself, and became rather good at it. I even tried wearing plastic shoes for a while, with mixed results, to avoid getting into that tedious 'leather = hypocrite' debate.

What finally made me start eating meat again was pregnancy. The first thing I craved, when I'd stopped being sick (this took three months), was red meat, and I've never gone back.

Of course, not all those teenagers who go Vegetarian at school or uni give it up. Two of my friends, both in their 40s, have been veggie for over 20 years. They're at the opposite ends of the shape spectrum, but both healthy nontheless, and I admire their commitment.

Going Vegetarian is, I think, an important teenage rite of passage. They may stick with it, they may not, but it's a chance for them to show some independence and free spirit. What are they rebelling against? Um... what have you got?

 
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