by Len Lear

Anyone who thinks this generation of teenagers is a group of mindless text messengers who utter “like” before every other word in each sentence should be introduced to Allison Schreffler, a graduating senior from Springside/CHA and Chestnut Hill resident who will be attending the University of Pennsylvania in the fall. At 18, Allison is a thoughtful, compassionate soul who is wise beyond her years.

Allison was recently honored for her countless hours of volunteer service to her church, St. Thomas of Whitemarsh, and as president of the Springside/CHA Upper School Service Board. (Photo by Wendy Concannon)

She was recently selected as a recipient of the 2012-2013 Comcast Leaders and Achievers Scholarship. This award recognizes high school seniors for commitment to community service, academic achievement and demonstrated leadership. She was also the 2012 recipient of her school’s Community Service Award, which she received last week at the Upper School Girls’ Final Assembly. According to Polly Kimberly, SCHA Associate Director of College Counseling:

“Allie dedicates hundreds of hours each year to service with her church (St. Thomas Episcopal of Whitemarsh), and as this year’s president of SCHA’s Upper School Service Board, she has mobilized the Upper School student body to address the need of hunger in our community. During the week before Thanksgiving, she galvanized her fellow students to donate, sort, pack and deliver more than 1500 cans of food to a local organization in need.”

Allison also recently spent several weeks as an intern at the Chestnut Hill Local, where she did an excellent job and wrote some fine articles for the paper. During that time we found out that Allison had decided at a very young age that she would no longer eat any meat, fish or dairy products; in other words, that she would eat a very strict vegan diet, a decision that very few children make on their own. This reporter/editor believes that Allison’s thoughts on the subject are well worth sharing with our readers:

When did you decide to become a vegetarian/vegan? What prompted you to make that decision?

I became vegetarian in August of 2005, two months after I had turned 12. I made this decision after learning more about the dog meat industry in Asia. I learned about the inhumane methods of slaughter, but I was primarily upset because of the breed of animal that the butchers killed. I have a dog, and I had always strongly opposed cruelty to animals … or to pets, at least. But it made me think: Hath not a cow eyes like a dog? Hath not a cow organs, dimensions, senses … and if you prick them, do they not bleed? It all depends on what species I wanted to include as livestock. I realized that I had two choices: I could either stop eating cows or start eating dogs. After realizing that it’s really the same, I couldn’t justify any other option.

I became vegan about a year and a half later in January of 2007. At this point, I made another discovery. I had always known it in the back of my mind, but at this point, I consciously acknowledged that, for the sake of profit, the methods and practices of these industries are inhumane. Standard treatment of cows and pigs would be considered a criminal offense if applied to protected animals like dogs and cats. Animals live in disease and in squalid conditions, even just in the egg and dairy industries. We routinely treat animals in ways that we would never treat even criminals and prisoners of war.

However, I made an even more significant discovery. People sometimes forget what being vegetarian is all about. It’s not a crusade for personal purity; it’s essentially a boycott of products we believe are objectionable. So, if the overall goal is to avoid giving money to the meat industry, then I had to realize the connection among all animal industries. When the old dairy cow no longer produces enough milk to justify the space she takes up, she is sent to slaughter. The same thing happens with old laying hens. So, since these industries support the meat industry, I decided to just divert my money elsewhere entirely.

What was the reaction of your family and friends?

Since I had just turned 12, my parents probably thought that my decision to be vegetarian would be just a phase. My decision probably baffled much of my extended family, since they love hunting. However, once the people around me came to realize that giving up meat isn’t actually as big a change as most people think, they accepted it and often still forget that I made any change at all.

There are those who say you can’t get enough protein on a vegan diet, especially if you are a young person still growing. How do you feel about that?

Although this myth was disproved many years ago, many people still believe it. The myth probably has its roots in information about complete and incomplete sources of protein. Every protein is made up of chains of amino acids; there are 20 amino acids in all, and nine of them are essential for human development.

As far as I know, all meats are sources of complete proteins, meaning they each contain all nine acids in the correct proportion for human development. Incomplete proteins contain some of these essential acids but not all or not in the proper proportion. However, plant foods like soy, quinoa, and buckwheat are complete proteins, and many combinations of plant proteins (like rice and beans) add up to complete proteins.

In addition, most people’s idea about how much protein is enough is often skewed. Most Americans eat so much meat that they end up consuming more protein than they need, which can be detrimental.

With the billions of animals killed for food every year in this country alone, how can your decision to not eat meat or fish make a difference?

Most people tell me that my effect on animal industries is so small that it is negligible. And they are right. None of us makes a difference on our own, but we make a difference as a group. When I stopped eating animal products, most people I encountered had never even heard of such a thing before. Now, Bill Clinton and Mike Tyson are vegans. Imagine if 50% of the population suddenly stopped eating meat. None of them would make a difference alone, but together, they would change the industry. There’s that one famous Margaret Mead quote that I’ve often used: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Almost all people who were able to eat meat and fish since the beginning of time have done so. Have they all been engaging in behavior that is insensitive, cruel, immoral, etc?

To me, there is a big difference between buying meat in a supermarket and hunting it personally. Even a wounded fawn has a better chance of escaping a rifle than a sow has of escaping slaughter. No species has ever had such complete domination over others. Now that we can breed and kill and consume as many animals as we want without requiring the consumers to expend more energy, we can view animals as commodities without feeling, emotional or physical. But in the distant past, people did what they needed to do to survive, and no one can blame them for trying to stay alive. What we consider moral will always depend on what we can afford to view as moral. It’s a different situation now for people who can live without meat.

People used to think gladiator fights were OK. When they decided that these were immoral, they used to think that dogfights were OK. Now most people have ruled out dogfights as well. People will probably be astounded 200 years from now by things that we all don’t think twice about now. Sometimes these things take time and an increase in our body of knowledge.

How do you feel when you see your friends and others eating meat and fish?

It really doesn’t bother me. They are not evil people; they are just doing what everyone else does. If they decide to become vegetarian, then that is a decision they will need to make by themselves.

What would you like to do with your life regarding a career?

I’ve been involved in urban education, so I would consider working with Philadelphia public schools. I also love biology. However, I really would like to consider doing something that helps animals because I think that I just care about their welfare more than the average person does. For this reason, I think I could be valuable in that field.

I’ve been very involved in my school’s Service Board and in my church’s Outreach Committee, so it’s very important to me that service remains a major part of my life, whether it’s for people, for pets, for livestock or for anyone else that needs help.

What do you plan to major in at Penn?

I would consider biology, sociology, English … I have a lot of academic interests, so I plan to try lots of things before I make a decision. Also, this isn’t one of your questions, but I think it’s important for me to mention that deciding to give up meat is really not as difficult or as crazy as it seems. Even if you eat no animal products at all, you can still eat pasta, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, French fries, and (amazingly) Oreos. I play sports.

And no action is too small. Don’t give up meat and eggs and dairy all at once; that will only lead to failure. Maybe just try Meatless Mondays. If you want to make a bigger change later, then go for it. If not, that’s also fine. But don’t hesitate to do something, even if it’s just something small.

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