What Students Are Saying About Vegetarianism, Parental Advice and How We Listen – The New York Times

Restaurant News

For this week’s roundup of student comments on our writing prompts, we asked teenagers to tell us what they think about vegetarianism, share how often they turn to their parents for advice, and interpret an image about talking and listening.

Before we jump in, we want to offer a warm welcome to new classes who joined the conversation this week from Arleta, Calif.; Arts in Action Middle School, Calif.; Cape Town, South Africa; Columbus, Ohio; Michigan; North Hollywood, Calif.; Polytechnic Senior High, Calif.; Springville, N.Y.; and Washington.

Please note: Student comments have been lightly edited for length, but otherwise appear exactly as they were originally submitted.


In the Opinion piece “I Admire Vegetarians. It’s a Choice I Won’t Ever Make,” Alicia P.Q. Wittmeyer discusses how meat is central to her family’s culture, and the challenges involved with ever giving meat up.

We asked students if they were vegetarian or vegan or if they had ever thought about adopting that diet. They told us how their cultures, the environment, ethics and health reasons have all influenced their decisions about what they eat and don’t eat.

In my big Italian family, food is the center of every occasion, event, and party. My family as well myself love to cook and we sit down and eat dinner with each other every night and even have family dinners with my uncle, aunt, and cousins on Sundays. I can’t imagine a major holiday like Christmas without seafood or meatballs, it just wouldn’t be the same.

Josie S., Glenbard West HS Glen Ellyn, IL

Meat has a significant impact on my life, much more so than I thought. As an Asian, more specifically Korean, my family eats meat daily. If I were to be a vegetarian or vegan, I would become a burden on my family. My mom would have to change her grocery plan to fit my specific needs on top of the rest of my six-person family. When visiting grandparents or aunts and uncles, whether it be for a reunion or holiday, meat is served in almost all dishes. I would either have to ask them to make something specifically for me, bring my own meal, or simply not eat. Food is a big part of bonding as well. Korean barbecue is a frequented holiday meal and I can become detached from my family if I do not participate.

Sophia Lee, Glenbard West HS Glen Ellyn, IL

I am not necessarily a vegetarian, but there have been times when I have had to do so because of religious beliefs. Every time there is a full moon, my family and I do not eat meat or go vegetarian for a day. We choose to do this because we believe that by not harming the animals the Gods will return us a favor in the future. My family and I rarely eat red meat, but we do have a lot of chicken and fish. I think that if we tried to go vegan or vegetarian it would be easy because our meals already consist of a lot of vegetables.

Phebe Truong, J.R Masterman

I grew up in a Mexican family where meat was so prevalent in the food we ate, yet, my parents and I quit meat back in 2015. Not eating meat would mean alienating ourselves from our histories and traditions, but I would argue this is a good thing. It’s these past traditions that have put our planet in this harsh, urgent condition. I disagree with the notion of placing our personal wants before an issue which is or will impact everyone: climate change. We somehow value our taste buds that much? To me, the cultural aspect of meat and food itself is little compared to our ideas, our languages, our music, etc.

Oscar Espejel, Glenbard West High School, Glen Ellyn IL

I am not a vegetarian or vegan, however I do observe a number of meat free and egg free (lacto-vegetarian) days for religious reasons. I am South African-Indian Hindu and take part in a fast that abstains from the consumption of meat and eggs, every Monday, Tuesday and occasional Hindu auspicious days. My family and I also take part in a month long fast from mid September to mid October in the Tamil month of Purtassi and we do not eat beef and pork at all.

In the past three years I have continuously contemplated becoming vegetarian for religious, ethical and environmental reasons, and it’s a constant battle because living a vegetarian lifestyle comes with great benefits. My closest friends are also vegetarian and I always feel uncomfortable eating meat around them.

Keenen Gilbert, Cape Town, Soth Africa

I’ve been vegan actually for four years now (since I was 12, I’m 16 now). I’m Puerto Rican, therefore meat is a big part of my culture. It’s really easy and my family is very supportive. Whenever my parents cook they just make my own meal with vegan products.

Alejandro, South Carolina

I have been a vegetarian for four years and while it can be hard to find food sometimes in such a carnist society, I can’t say that I regret it. To me, it’s a matter of having as little impact on the Earth as I can. Over a year, a vegetarian will use 3 fewer acres of land, be responsible for 60% fewer emissions, and save up to 270 animals. In a growing population, turning to vegetarianism and veganism is the only way that we will be able to feed our entire population because of the huge amounts of land we use to grow grain for livestock and graze them.

I am tired of hearing the excuse, “But I really like meat.” Yes, ideally, it would be great if we could all eat meat, but we are currently in a climate crisis. Big problems require big solutions and changing your diet is the single biggest thing you can do to lower your emissions.

Cooper Hyldahl, Hoggard High School in Wilmington, NC

Throughout all my years, I have been on and off vegetarian. It started in middle school and to this day, I try to avoid meat. I think that the reasoning behind it is more targeted for the food industry and the pure animal abuse that is behind the meat (and dairy) industry. If everyone in the world became vegetarian and continued a sustainable lifestyle, our CO2 emissions would plummet, as well as greenhouse gasses and other harmful chemicals. For years I’ve been finding new ways to replace meat in my diet and I don’t miss meat at all -and that’s coming from a steakhouse chefs daughter.

Ava Iserloth, Glenbard West HS Glen Ellyn, IL

I admire people who become vegetarian for environmental reasons, since usually they have had meat before, probably miss it, but want to do what is best for the Earth. It is also probably a healthier option. But I eat meat practically every day.


No. I would never go vegetarian in my life. I like cheeseburgers, steak, and chicken and I couldn’t imagine only eating salad and veggie burgers. If anything I would minimize my meat intake but I’d never stop eating meat and become a vegetarian. With the new impossible burger from Burger King I think it would be interesting to try to new plant based burgers and chicken and everything but I would never not eat burgers, steak, or chicken.

Nolan Hart, Glenbard West High School, IL

I think that becoming a vegetarian is a brave decision. I have seen many people who are vegetarian and can keep their decision to do not eat meat at all, but I cannot. I consider a balanced diet that brings me different amino acids and minerals which are necessaries for my body. A balanced diet contains proteins, carbohydrates, vegetables, fruits, grains, and dairy. One of the proteins from this diet is meat that is important because it brings us iron, some essential amino acids, vitamins A and B12.

Andrea SW, YC CLIP

I chose to become pescatarian for a variety of reasons, the first being the health benefits. As a ballet dancer I have to be very careful with what I put into my body to power myself while maintaining how I look, so I decided to cut out red meat, then chicken and now I am left with fish. I have found that by doing this, my body has responded in a positive way, lending it towards dance more.

Lauren Alving, Glenbard West High school

Nine months ago I decided to become vegetarian. While I’ve eaten meat my entire life, I felt better without it. The thing is, it hasn’t made this drastic impact, my family continues to eat meat, I don’t feel the need to pressure others into not eating it, and I continue to go out to eat wherever I want. Becoming a vegetarian can be for your own reasons, for me I felt healthier without the grease, as well as the impact the meat industry has on the environment.

Charlotte Todd, Hoggard High School

Last year for about 6 months I actually was vegetarian. I saw this video about how they processed meat in factories, it was heartbreaking seeing what they did to the animals. When I was vegetarian I couldn’t even fathom eating meat. I’m very lucky to have a family that supports me and were more than willing to cook separate meals for me that didn’t contain meat.

Bailey Hughes, Hoggard High School in Wilmington, NC

In my short 16 years of being alive, I have found few foods that I enjoy, in all honesty, certain meat products are ones I have come to enjoy. So being a vegetarian or vegan isn’t something I really would want to do. And I don’t think that it will stop the problem of animal abuse and neglect by huge mass producing farms. Local small farms that actually care for their animals and offer them a healthy, normal life are the best way to protect animal welfare. Treat them with love and they will treat you with love back.

Gabe Pellette, Springville, Ny

I get why people become vegetarian; they are against killing animals and the abusive nature of how they are raised. I can see why people don’t like that, but in my opinion refusing to eat meat won’t change what’s going on. If you go into a store and refuse to buy meat, then someone else after you is going to end up buying it. If the meats already in the package and in stores, you might as well not let it go to waste. That’s my philosophy, but I also believe the meat industry is very cruel and they should find other ways to operate their industry.

Luke Zemenak, Glenbard West, Glen Ellyn, IL


Why do teenagers reject parents’ solutions to their problems? “It’s usually because we’re not giving them what they’re really looking for,” Lisa Damour writes in an article about how teenagers want their parents to respond.

We asked students who they go to when they need help. Many thought they were “different” than most teenagers because they do turn to their parents for advice. But in the responses below, you’ll see they’re not alone. Others told us about the friends, teachers and family members who they prefer talking to, and why.

After school, the first person I talk to is my mom. We talk about our days, the good and the bad. She is literally my best friend. I ask her for advice on just about everything. It shows that you can build a strong and trustful bond between a parent and child … My parents are two people in this world who I trust the most, and by opening that line of communication between us, it makes my life so much better.

Katie, Hanover

Most of the time, I turn to my mom for advice (in any situation). She always says her opinion on things so confidently, which, I guess, somehow satisfies me. Even if the solution she gives me isn’t what I was particularly looking for, her reasoning on why she thought/felt that way always seems to make sense. Also, because she says things so confidently and with good reasoning, it gives me a whole new perspective to the problem.

Chloe, Saigon South Int. School, HCMC, Vietnam

I do ask my mother for advice most of the time. When I do I feel like I’m getting the right solution. But, sometimes it can be hard to talk to her. Like, when she does not understand what I’m inferring to or, I have to repeat myself. Which, gets very annoying. But, I still ask and try to explain to her. My mother is also supportive of my decisions. I don’t know what I’ll have done without her.

Samantha, Northern Academy

At a younger stage of my life, I believed the best place to go with problems or questions was my friends and not my parents. As I’ve grown, I’ve done the exact opposite. Realizing that my parents have experienced way more than me has opened me up to them. Many of the problems I face today seem like grown up problems that need to be taken care of by adults, as I become an adult I learn by my parents helping me solve these problems.

Jakub M, Glenbard West HS Glen Ellyn, IL

I am lucky to have parents that listen to me and give me good advice. Many times after something happens that upsets me, I often turn to my mom to complain about teachers, tests and homework, as well as drama that happens with friends and peers. My mom has been through high school before, so she knows what it is like. Although, when she was in high school, many things were very different. So at times, it is hard for her to understand what I am going through. This can cause miscommunications or me getting frustrated and going to talk to a friend about it.

Keira McWilliams, Hoggard High School in Wilmington NC

I think it’s easier to go to an older friend. Someone who has truly had experience but also understands what we may be going through. Parents sometimes don’t really understand the stress some of us have. They forget what it was like to be our age.

Sydney Short, Hoggard High School in Wilmington, NC

I usually go to a teacher I trust because they have known me for a long time and they actually give advice. Sometimes my mom will just get upset when I ask her for advice. I only really ask her about my grades. Then she will never give me advice she’ll only get upset and ask me how I got there instead of helping.

Renee Regnier, Nipomo High School

To me, talking to my parents about an issue is an awkward experience. If I have an issue that I need help solving I usually hop on my phone and text my group chat. All 15 people in the group chat are some of my closest friends that I feel like I can share anything with.

Dean, Glenbard West Highschool

When I need advice specifically at school, I have multiple teachers that I am comfortable talking to. For instance, earlier this year I was having a problem with anxiety, and my math teacher from last year helped me through it. When I was feeling overwhelmed, I would go to her classroom and we would talk out my problems. I think having these trusting relationships with mothers and teachers is healthy and important for students because it gives them away to comfortably discuss their emotions.

Summer Brown, Bryant, Arkansas

Personally, I don’t like going to my parents for advice. Nothing against my parents but I think my friends understand me better. I feel more comfortable turning to a friend for help rather than one of my parents. My parents will say that I can tell them anything and that they will help but, whenever I do they start lecturing me on what I have done wrong or how I haven’t done anything to help. I feel like whenever I turn to my parents for help it’s just a headache for me to deal with.

Brianna K., J.R Masterman

Though it may seem reasonable to seek advice or help from your parents, in my case it does not rest the same. Growing up with immigrant parents was difficult, in the aspect that they were not as open enough to me and were highly strict with their parenting terms. Their strictness may have prevented me from opening up to a relationship with them, but for many cases found in immigrant families, it is more likely, causing more signs of anxiety and depression.

Vanessa Gonzalez, John H. Francis Polytechnic High School

My issue is when I try to talk to my mom about situations that are happening in my life, she nicely tells me that it’s my fault that I’m in the situation and then gives me a lecture about knowing right from wrong and other similar subjects. First of all that’s not helpful second it makes me feel attacked and then I don’t want to talk anymore. So I don’t tell myself much of anything unless I really have to. Although I wouldn’t mind telling my mom everything going on in my life, it just never goes well for me.

Daleah Vallardo, California

It’s hard and uncomfortable for me to share my problems with my parents because they don’t always react how I want them to. Sometimes they say that it’s my fault, so I don’t really talk to them about my issues, because I think I can handle them on my own. Also, I know that they’re busy and don’t have time, so I don’t bother them with stuff. I don’t ask for help on anything. I only ask if I’m desperate. They say I shouldn’t be asking for help much, and I should try to figure it out on my own.

Catherine Jonathan, J.R Masterman

Telling our parents about our issues can sometimes be the biggest problem. For example I find that whenever I receive a bad grade, or fail to do something, my issue is never really that I am worried about what I can do to fix it, but how my parents will react to the news. Because of this I only feel comfortable talking to my parents about certain things, like teachers, or other topics not related to grades and schoolwork, that happen at school.

Valeria, J.R. Masterman

Usually I’m the type to hold on my feelings until I decide I’ve had enough, I do that with my friends and my family. I speak my mind when I need to and I say what I have to say, but when it comes to my feelings, they are harder to express. Often times, going to my mom isn’t the easiest or most comfortable option I have. When I go to my mom, I have to gather up courage to face my mother in a raw, letting go of my pride sort of way in order to tell her how I feel.

Jessica Elkotbeid, Los Angeles, CA

This is to parents; We teens act mostly on our emotion, especially when we have it all bunched up in us. And when we turn to you guys for help, we expect that you guys would be there to tell us it’ll be ok. Instead some parents are criticize our thoughts because sometimes they think it is too immature …

zero, Upper Merion High School, PA

When a pile of stress is dropped on us, we get lost and feel alone when we don’t know who to turn too. Parents try to help in any way they can, and they usually try to help by give advice. However, in the eyes of a teenager, parents seem to be criticizing our every move when we are only look for a support system. For parents and teens to overcome this obstacle, it is best for parents to know that we are not always looking for a solution.

Jamyah Bernard, Wekiva High School, Apopka FL

I can majorly relate to the “rinse and repeat” motion of explanation, interruption, and anger that come with many of the conversations. This anger usually erupts from my hopes for an ear to listen being taken over by a mouth saying “well why don’t you try this” or “you should be doing that.” Most of the time, I don’t want advice. Rather, I need to let my feelings out with someone I feel comfortable with.

Megan Hoerster, Glenbard West HS Glen Ellyn, IL


We asked students to tell us what they thought the above image from our Picture Prompt “Talking and Listening” was saying. They interpreted it in a number of ways: from the dangers of not being open to new ideas to the need for men to listen to women.

At first, I saw this picture and instantly thought that this is another painting that shows how the ‘world’ tries to pull you in their direction. The noise, comments, adds, famous opinions can change the way you think. Then I looked a little deeper. The man is listening, he is cuffing his ear so he can hear better. His face is calm. He doesn’t look confused or torn between the opinions of the world. He wants to listen. I think this art piece is truly beautiful. The man shows an example of listening even when the people are angry, joyful, sad. You never know the wisdom or relationships you will find if you just listen.

Adin Williams, Hawaii

This simple picture speaks volumes on how people interact with one another. Taking a closer look you see really only speech bubbles in the background, a handful of people talking and creating speech bubbles, and yet there is only one person listening.

I can relate to this picture rather deeply. I personally think of myself a more of a listener- despite being a rather loquacious person. Seems contradictory, right? But really when it comes down to it I’d much rather listen to other people talk about their day, their inspiration, their interests, their problems, than to bulldoze a conversation and hop at any opportunity to give my opinion.

Ani, Glenbard West High School

The fact that there’s only one major figure in the entire art piece who’s listening to all the colorful chaos that people are saying speaks loudly to what this piece is about, in my opinion. I find it to be speaking about how there’d very few people who will actually want to listen to what people are trying to say. I also noticed how none of the speech bubbles from the people are actually going into the listeners ear. This could signify how larger companies or authority figures can sometimes say they are listening to the community or people when in reality they aren’t.

JD, Kauai, HI

The image is suggesting that it is overwhelming to try to listen to everyone you can in the world. When seeking advice or answers from the community, people will often hear answers which contradict or have no correlation with each other — making it very difficult to draw a personal conclusion.

On my football team, I might be told by my position coach to do something a specific way (the “right” way); but 5 minutes later I am told to do it in the complete opposite manner: this causes an overwhelming and stressful environment to make my own decisions in.

Braden Spiech, Glenbard West HS Glen Ellyn, IL

This image speaks to me in the way that people will provide positive and negative influences/ words to you which will change you as a human. This image shows an open-eared person listening to all the bad and good that comes out of people’s mouths to them and a big problem in our society is that people actually won’t talk bad to someone to their face its always behind their back or thru a screen.

In my opinion if you got something to say negative about a person then tell them straight up because if you are too cowardly to even confront them or tell them what you think about them, then you shouldn’t be talking bad in the first place.

Gianni Melle, Kauai, HI

It seems as though he’s pretending to listen, like the women in the picture are trying to say something important but their words are falling on deaf ears. It also seems like the man is meant to be white while the women are diverse and come from multiple different races. It’s a statement about how the cries of people of color, specifically women of color, aren’t heard by white men, the powerful in our current society. He seems to be patronizing them and not quite listening to them because he’s turned away, like he’s turned his back to them and their problems.

Elliot Wells, Hoggard High School in Wilmington, NC

The picture shows many women saying something at a man. This picture represents how women might be disrespected in workplaces or at home. In general, I think the illustration conveys the idea of listening to one another. The man in the picture isn’t, which could allude to how to be a good listener we have to stop talking.

Priya Patel, Hoggard High School in Wilmington, NC

This image is saying that men need to listen to women more. Throughout history, women have constantly been shut up and their opinions cast aside. While I believe that this still happens a little bit in today’s society, I believe that there is a bigger problem: nobody is listening to each other. In the world today, there are so many voices that want to be heard, but there are so few people that are willing to listen to what is being said. I believe it is important to listen and to not always be the one who is talking. Listening is a good skill to have because it allows you to have deeper and more meaningful conversations, and it allows you to have multiple perspectives on issues in the world.

Skye S, Glenbard West HS Glen Ellyn, IL

The image is demonstrating what it means to engage in an issue. All around us there are views and opinions on every issue imaginable. Some will be on one end of the debate, others will be on the complete opposite side, and many will be in between the two extremes. Amid all these differing and conversing views, it can be difficult to listen to opinions that might contradict or challenge your own view. But like the man in the picture, it is vital that when engaging in a debate we listen to all sides of the debate, even those we may disagree with, and treat those views with respect and an open mind.

Gavin Schilling, Glenbard West HS Glen Ellyn, Il

We often have political debates in class and the sides are divided, one side fights with the other and they are so focused on voicing their own ideas that they forget to listen or even consider what the other side is saying. Why are we wired like this, imagine if we sat back and listened to others opinions and built off them, used their ideas to support our own even if they have a different opinion than us. We would probably learn so much more.

Charlotte Todd, Hoggard High School

I am a listener. Not just by choice but because of my incapability to stand up for myself. I can act pretty confident but it comes in waves and even then my anxiety floods my brain. I wish I had the energy to express myself more but I choose to listen to other’s issues and ideas instead.

Over the years I’ve learned how important it is to really be silent and listen to others. Last year, my class would set up socratic seminars where we could speak our minds. I couldn’t help but be bothered by those who raised their hands too often or changed the topic so they could speak about themselves. Sadly, we were graded by the number of times we talked instead of the quality of our conversations. The calm seminars soon turned into a quiet but deadly war of backhanded compliments. It hurt my ego to see my classmates fighting. All because they couldn’t truly listen.

Listening is much more than sounds waves entering the auricle, passing through the auditory canal, and hitting our eardrum. Listening means putting everything down and thinking about something or someone other than yourself. This can include an unprofessional therapy session with a friend or even a lecture by your math teacher.

So please, from the nervous girl in chemistry or the loud spontaneous track runner. Next time someone has the courage to talk, Listen.

Chloe Scatton-Tessier, Hoggard High School in Wilmington, NC

Source: Thanks https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/27/learning/what-students-are-saying-about-vegetarianism-parental-advice-and-how-we-listen.html