High school can be a time to discover and explore new passions. With a few clicks on a screen, information and videos can lead to an unfamiliar path. Veganism is becoming increasingly popular, for adults and teens, but teens can face a unique challenge. The information may be at your fingertips but there may be hurdles in the application. I hope through my reflection as a vegan teen and my experience now, I can offer some humble suggestions to ease the burden.
First, let me take you back to my failure as a vegan teen. I was introduced to veganism in my senior year in high school by a very dense book I found in the library. I wish I could say I read it in its entirety and still hold on to some unwavering gems but nothing could be further from the truth. What I hold onto is the feeling of being overwhelmed with information. There were no other books to cross reference with nor anybody to offer insight. My motivator was animal rights and compassion.
Now, I believe most folks understand animals are sentient beings; capable of experiencing pain and sorrow but not everyone is willing to transform their diet or adopt a new idea of food. My family was no different. I was a new young vegan in a non-vegan home. The grocery shopping and all our meals were prepared by my mother. Meat was believed to be a “healthy” staple necessary for every meal. I am extremely grateful for her willingness to be supportive but here is where I made my first mistake: I made it her responsibility to figure out this whole vegan thing. I made my new diet choice her responsibility. When she failed to create a separate vegan dish for me, I would snack on sides or some random foods in the refrigerator and blame her for not taking my lifestyle seriously.
My second mistake was not taking the time to understand nutrition. In my defense, I really didn’t know I should be looking into it nor did I know where to find that information, but I think it should have been assumed that eating more vegetables and fruits was part of it. Determined to hold onto my childhood palate, I focused on rice, beans, and processed foods null of any additional vegetables. A few months into veganism and my lips became pale, my body became weak, and my legs gave out on me a couple times. My doctor convinced me and my mother that I was just one of those people that needed meat in their diet. I wish my doctor would have checked if I was eating a variety of fruits and vegetables and that I was consuming enough calories.
Reflecting on my experience and sitting down with my neighbor, a young new vegetarian, I wanted to offer some advice for the young folks leading the way on a healthier, more compassionate diet. Let me preface by saying, I understand that not all teens have the same situation at home. Some have supportive parents, some do not. Some have access to more foods than others. Some have part-time jobs with their own money for food and some will have more time than others. I offer this advice, not as everyone should do it all, but in hopes that some or part of it may be helpful in their journey.
1. Your diet is your responsibility. Again, different situations for different folks. It may not seem feasible for everyone at this time but if you cannot find a way to make it work, don’t expect your mom or dad to figure it out for you. Their support is appreciated but at the end of the day, it’s up to you.
2. Do what you can. If access to food is an issue, try to eat vegan/vegetarian as much as possible. As time passes, it will get easier or you will be able to make more choices for yourself.
3. Go grocery shopping with whoever does the grocery shopping in your family. While they pick up their usual foods, take note of what you can eat. Read labels of other foods and offer suggestions.
4. When grocery shopping, ask for a couple new items at a time. They may not want to double their time or bill shopping just for you. Asking them to add tofu, a new spice, or other ingredient one at time. This can eliminate the feeling of being overwhelmed by your needs.
5. Cook with whoever does the cooking in your family. Be mindful of what they add to the food that makes it non-vegan. Ask if you can take part of it without the additional meat, dairy, or eggs. Then, complete your meal by adding additional vegetables or legumes.
6. Ask the primary cook in your family if they can help you with a new vegan recipe. Have the recipe printed or on the screen. Take the wheel, ask them for help when needed, and make them feel included in your choice.
7. Ask if you can cook something for the family. This will allow you to try something new while appreciating your family and introducing them to your chosen lifestyle.
8. Remember why you’ve chosen this lifestyle and re-affirm when needed. This may be watching more documentaries, re-watching your favorite, or reading more literature. We are going against the grain in our eating habits at the moment. Being reminded of your why is needed for most vegans in the beginning.
9. OFFER to share information with your family and friends. What made you transition? Maybe it can have the same effect on someone you know. Offer to share it with them and support them should they choose a vegan/vegetarian diet. Offer but don’t force. Stay mindful and respectful of other people’s journeys. This may be their first introduction to veganism against a history of something different. When we become forceful and negative, it only turns more folks away. Maybe the first introduction doesn’t create a change, but they will hold onto the experience and they may be open to it at another time. Be patient.
10. Remember, that sometimes it’s not that folks don’t want to be supportive but they just might not know how to be or they may be doing so much already. Being a parent or guardian is demanding. They may want to help but they have a lot on their plate too. Maybe it’s taking care of siblings, grandparents, or working late hours. This is why the primary responsibility should fall on you. This is your choice. A choice I applaud to the fullest and hope you continue but it is your choice.