It took a while for Skyler Siegel to become a vegetarian. So far, the senior at the Abraham Joshua Heschel School has stuck with it for the past five months. Before that, he experimented with it a few times before falling off the wagon, and managed to avoid eating meat for an entire month, a practice known as “Veguary.”
In 2009, along with two of his schoolmates, Siegel launched the website Veguary.org, aiming to get “pledges” from people around the world to eliminate or reduce their meat consumption for just the month of February.
“We don’t preach vegetarianism, we preach awareness,” said Siegel. The second year of Veguary, in 2011, had pledges from over 700 people. Siegel has always been environmentally active, and saw vegetarianism as a way to advance those concerns, since meat processing is a major contributor to pollution. After reading books like “Eating Animals” by Jonathan Safran Foer and “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” by Michael Pollan, Siegel was convinced that promoting awareness of the meat industry was key.
He has been active in many Jewish organizations: as a Bronfman Youth Fellow, he spent a summer in Israel; as a Tikvah High School Scholar, he took part in seminars and retreats throughout the year; and with AIPAC he traveled to Washington to meet with policy makers.
Siegel sees the message of Veguary as relevant to the Jewish community at large. “It’s a really pertinent thing in the Jewish world,” he said, “especially with the whole issue of kashrut and ethical slaughtering of animals.” He said several of his friends say they abstain from meat during the week, but indulge on Shabbat, and he recognizes that meat has a very “social component” for many Jews. “We understand, that if 700 people eat less meat, it’s not going to make an economic impact on the meat industry,” said Siegel. “But we think it could eventually make some social impact on the decisions that people make every day.”
Garden inspiration: As a Bronfman Youth Fellow last summer, Siegel spent two days at Kibbutz Lotan, where he was amazed at the sustainable and eco-friendly environment; he hopes one day to expand Veguary to include these ideas. Animal friendly: As part of an internship program with Heschel, Siegel is spending this month interning at the Central Park Zoo, helping plan tours and classes.