Vegan Since Birth: Profile of a vegan teen
Sasha, how old are you, and how long have you been vegan?
by Doh Driver
I am fourteen years old, and have been vegan since birth. My mom has been vegetarian for 25 years, and vegan for the past 14 years since I was born. My dad is vegan at home, but occasionally lacto-ovo when traveling for work.
Do you remember a time when you were younger when being vegan took on a particular meaning, or meant something more than what you didn't eat? Was there an event or a conversation--or has it always been, well, there in the background?
For me, being vegan always meant that I didn't eat any foods that contained animal products. I never really understood the real power of being a vegan until very recently, actually. I guess it's always been in the background. In fact, I joke about my mom always being my "mouth piece" because whenever anyone asked me a question about being vegan, I would always think of what mom would say, instead of coming up with my own answer. Now, I am more interested in my "culture," and I'm doing plenty of research so when someone asks a question about my veganism, I give my own reply, not my mom's. Erin Pavlina's book, Raising Vegan Children in a Non-Vegan World, helped a lot.
What are a few typical meals for you? What's your favorite food? Do you ever get bored with what you eat?
I usually have organic, whole grain cereal with a banana, or oatmeal for breakfast, organic soy nut butter and jelly sandwiches (my fave!) on whole wheat bread with some side snacks like chips or any organic fruit that is in season for lunch, alternating with hummus, or a bean burrito, maybe soy yogurt, and whatever my mom cooks for dinner. My favorite foods include macaroni and soy cheeze (made with nutritional yeast), pea soup with soy hot dogs, homemade pizza, organic smoothies, and practically any kind of fruit. I also like most vegetables, but edamame and broccoli top my list. I do admit that I sometimes get bored with my meals. But now, I am starting to read some of the many vegan/vegetarian cookbooks my mom has, as well as learning how to cook myself, to try to add variety to my every day meals.
You're in high school, which is not exactly Vegan Central. What do you have for lunch?
Actually, I'm in 8th grade. I bring my lunch to school every day. I usually have a sandwich, fruit or yogurt, and chips or popcorn, or some other type of healthy snack like a Luna bar. I also bring a bottle of water to school every day. When I get home from school, I usually snack on fruit, nuts and seeds, and hot cocoa in the winter.
What do your friends think of your lifestyle?
Some of my friends think that my vegan lifestyle is really cool and interesting, while others are half intrigued, half unsure of what to think. On the whole, I think all of my friends don't care what I eat. My real friends love me for who I am, not for what I eat. Some try to challenge me by saying, "How will you find vegan food in college?" I know from my research that more and more colleges and universities are including vegetarian and even vegan dishes in their menus, which is really cool!
What kinds of reactions do you get from other students? Do you get teased often? If so, how do you handle it?
Mostly shock! I think it's because it's very rare that you see a teenager eating strictly vegan foods. I wouldn't say I've gotten teased to the full extent, but I've certainly heard some jokes that make me feel very uncomfortable. I used to handle it by either not saying a word (while inside being annoyed at their comments), but now I just calmly answer all of their questions, and if they crack any jokes, I joke back! It's important to have a good sense of humor if you deal with stuff like this every day, otherwise you will get nowhere, in my opinion. My mom has encouraged me to use these situations as "educational ops," not to be preachy, but just to explain. My mom was invited to make a presentation to a Girl Scout troop last week, and I wanted to help her. I got to compare and contrast the USDA Food Pyramid with the vegan food pyramid. We brought meatless meatballs, smoothies, taco "meat" on chips, soynuts, and soy ice cream for the girls to taste. They LOVED the food!
Have you faced a lot of challenges because of your diet? Have there been times you felt left out, sidelined or deprived because you couldn't eat what your friends were eating?
I have faced challenges with being vegan since the day I was born. Some members of my family did not approve of my parents raising me with this kind of lifestyle, but of course I was too young to have a say in the matter. Basically, I had no choice, just as kids born into a certain religion have no choice until they're older. As I grew older, I had to face the regular social problems that came up: food at birthday parties, after school meetings, regular parties or Bar/Bat Mitzvahs, school lunches, etc. I can't count how many times I felt deprived because I couldn't fit in "food wise." I can't deny that it has been challenging. My mom has been encouraging me to decide if I want to maintain my veganism or if I want to be lacto- or ovo- outside of my home. But now that I'm given the choice, I want to remain vegan. Also, I try hard to not let my veganism interfere with things I want to do. For example, when I was 10, I really wanted to go to overnight camp. My mom tried hard to find a camp on the east coast that could accomodate a vegan. She found a Jewish kosher camp in Maryland that said they probably could, but it ended up that we had to bring ALL the food for two weeks, and we had to make sure that it was kosher certified by THEIR standards! The next summer, mom found a camp for me in VA that actually had a vegetarian line in the mess hall! They told mom to make a list of food that I could eat and they went to the local Whole Foods and bought everything on the list! I went to that camp for two summers. I know that there are a few vegan camps, but none are near us, and they generally require a 4-week stay.
Were there times in your life you didn't like being vegan? Have the words, "Mom, I'm going to start eating meat now" ever passed your lips? Have you ever intentionally eaten an animal product?
The only times I didn't like being vegan were when social problems came up, and people made negative comments about my food. I have NEVER wanted to eat meat, although I once told mom that I wanted to "try" chicken. I guess I was just testing. I don't even like meat substitutes so I doubt I would like chicken. I do not believe in eating dead animals. However, I do admit to having tried foods that contain dairy products, like soy cheese with casein. Granted, it wasn't the same as eating a dead cow. I've eaten a few things with dairy or eggs in them quite by accident. Peer pressure is a terrible thing, and many times I've heard things from my peers such as, "C'mon, just try this! It doesn't have any animal products in it. It won't kill you!" If only I'd had more confidence and pride in my healthy diet to say, "Let me see the ingredient label," or "I don't eat things that contain animal products." The mom of a friend of mine is very health-conscious and I love going to their house because I know I can eat their cookies and drink their soy milk. It makes me feel so comfortable/normal when I go there because I don't have to "pack" anything.
You're more than just a vegan--what else are you into?
I love tap dancing, and have been taking it for about nine years now. I also love to read, go online, watch TV, and I love to write stories and poetry. I am currently on the school newspaper staff in my journalism class. Last year, I won the Creative Writing Award for the entire 7th grade!
Do you have any advice for other vegans your age? Anything else you want to say?
I finally understood that one person can truly make a difference when I read this statistic from John Robbins in Diet for a New America: Sixty million people will starve to death this year. But if each person reduced their animal intake by 10%, it could save 60 million lives, because the grain usually fed to the animals could be fed to the starving people instead! When we told this to the Girl Scouts, they all agreed that they could give up animal products once a week.
Stay true to yourself. Don't be vegan to please others because you will always feel deprived. It's a challenge, but you always have to put your own beliefs before anything else. Find other like-minded vegan/vegetarian teens online, and correspond with them. Here are a few sites I would like to recommend for those interested in a vegan/vegetarian diet: http://www.soystache.com, http://www.vegetarianteen.com, and http://www.vegfamily.com.
Thank you for the opportunity to share my story. I would love to correspond with any vegans, vegetarians, or wannabes out there. Please email me.