The Vegetarian Resource Group Blog

Teen FAQ question: How do I handle bullying for being a vegetarian or vegan?

Posted on June 14, 2017 by The VRG Blog Editor


Bullying: When you’re a Vegetarian or Vegan Teen
by Shannon Borgoyn

Being a teen can be hard: trying to figure out who you are and what you want to do with your life are big tasks. On top of this, deciding to go vegetarian or vegan can add another level of difficulty to the game of life. According to their 2014 online national poll, Harris Poll (for The Vegetarian Resource Group) found that 4% of young Americans aged 8-18 are vegetarian (including vegan). This will most likely grow as young people discover vegetarianism and veganism. Regardless of vegetarianism’s and veganism’s growth, not all people know what it is or understand it. Meat has always been considered the focal point of most western dishes. So, it can be hard for most people to wrap their minds around having all-plant dishes. Because of this, people may be curious, guilty, or aggressive when faced with vegetarians or vegans.

I am a vegan. In my experience, people have been open-minded and genuinely curious about my lifestyle. They ask: “How hard is it? Where do you get your protein? What do you eat?” In high school, I was vegetarian and this was usually the case for me: people were curious because they didn’t know about my lifestyle. However, I’ve also experienced people who aren’t so open-minded. I’ve encountered some of these people in real life. I took cooking classes in high school, so my lifestyle was quickly noted. While many people were supportive, I felt left out when the non-vegetarian majority chose the meals we prepared, which were not vegetarian-friendly. Also, I have had negative online experiences. There are people (“trolls”) who purposely say things to get a response and feed off of it. In my case, they try to “weed out the vegan” or comment purposely vegan-offensive things to get vegans to respond (usually negatively). These types of situations can be very tough to handle and it can be hard to know how to respond.

To get an idea of others’ experiences, I interviewed VRG interns: Casey Brown and Davin Sims. Casey was vegetarian in high school and became vegan in college. When asked about her loved ones’ responses to her decision, she replied that “everyone was fine” and that it “didn’t ever come up” in conversation. She said that the people in her life are “really open and supportive” about her lifestyle.
Davin ate meat for her first two years in high school and transitioned to veganism in her last two years. Because of the change in her lifestyle Davin lost much weight. People noticed, commented, and were curious about her lifestyle change. Davin said that this was contrary to what she thought would happen. Davin attended an inner-city public high school and knew that people who changed weren’t always “well-received.” These changes included dietary changes. So, she was surprised to find out that this wasn’t the case for her. Because of veganism, she was able to make new friends. In college, Davin started a vegan and vegetarian outreach club to provide foods for vegan and vegetarian students. Some people in the club who knew Davin as vegan didn’t respect or accept her decision to stop being totally vegan at school (due to limited vegan food available), though she was still vegetarian.
VRG volunteer coordinator Brigette Dumais weighed in on her high school experiences. She said she was vegetarian in high school for one year. When she “stopped eating meat,” she found it to be “a struggle” because she was “made fun of.” Additionally, she felt left out when eating with non-vegetarian people. The experience she recalled to me most vividly was when she was involved in band. The band’s bus had stopped at a McDonald’s for food. Brigette was unprepared because she hadn’t brought any food with her. Additionally, she felt like she had to “choose between being hungry and eating meat.” She also recalled another experience with a family member not accepting that she considered fish to be a meat. When Brigette became vegan after college, reception from her partner was easy, since they did it together and he did the cooking. There was no negativity from her friends or family, but more curiosity and questions because of lack of knowledge.
When people are purposely insensitive or hurtful towards you, one course of action is stand your ground and believe in your decision. If they attempt to question or mislead you, keep firm and reply calmly (but firmly) that this is who you are and you’re not going to change. If you have gathered enough information, you should be able to calmly and confidently respond in a way comfortable for you.

It is good if you have friends with you who support and understand your choice; they can stand with you against the bully. It may be helpful for you to join or form a vegetarian support group. If this isn’t the choice for you, you can always ignore the bully. Some bullies are fueled by attention and will stop bothering you when you ignore them. Don’t be a bully back to them; being mean only makes them meaner and things can get out of hand. If the situation escalates, it might help to go to an adult or teacher you trust.


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