Vegan Camp Exploration With Dr. Andy Mars

For some parents, finding the right camp for their child can be overwhelming. A number of specialty camps concentrate on activities such as water skiing, adventure sports, or the arts. Others focus on health issues, like diabetes or asthma.

While many camps claim to have vegetarian options, they rarely offer more than the usual salad bar, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and maybe a Gardenburger. That's why Camp Exploration is a breath of fresh air for campers looking for both exciting summer camp experiences and great vegan food.

Since 1994, Dr. Andy Mars has directed an all-vegan summer camp. Each year, a day camp and five different overnight sessions are offered. Each session's activities are based around themes, such as hiking, traveling the California coast, visiting Yosemite or Disneyland, and even taking an alien- and space-focused road trip to Roswell, New Mexico.

Apprehensive parents and children always have the opportunity to meet and talk with Dr. Mars before attending Camp Exploration.

"After the other bad camp, I wasn't sure I wanted to try something else," one participant said. "Then, I met Doc, and when I talked to him, I felt all better. And after going, it was even better than I thought." With no more than 12 campers (and three adult counselors) per session, the campers really get to know each other. They get to eat, explore, and travel together. There are no specific age ranges for any session, but most campers are between 8 and 12 years old.

Camp Exploration is near Los Angeles, so the majority of the campers are from southern California. This is not to say that the camp is lacking in diversity; parents and children have come from across the United States and from countries such as Israel, Korea, Japan, and Russia. In addition to Camp Exploration, Dr. Mars directs an after-school program called Students Taking Action and Responsibility Today (START) during the school year. This program contributes approximately half of the campers each summer.

Although the camp food provided is entirely vegan, many of the campers are not vegan or even vegetarian.

"In 18 successful summers (and winters) of these programs, we have never had a non-vegetarian camper complain about the food," Dr. Mars said. "They absolutely love it."

When asked what their favorite camp food is, campers agree that sushi and veggie kabobs are some of the best (and most fun) meals. Other favorites include Italian night, a Mexican burrito bar, and the all-important camp staple ... roasted marshmallows and s'mores (vegan, of course!). Campers can choose to help in food preparation, which can lead to eating better even after returning home.

Camp Exploration's success can be measured by the campers' feedback and the number who come back each year. Some campers return for years in a row and even for multiple sessions during a single summer.

To learn more about Camp Exploration, visit their website at

Not in California? Check out some other summer camps with good vegetarian food options on the VRG website at summer-camps/

Julia Warren is a nutrition major at the State University of New York at Plattsburgh. She wrote this article while doing a long-distance internship with The Vegetarian Resource Group.