Out of personal experience, it is evident to me that veganism and vegetarianism are on the rise, especially with teenagers and in high schools. Some teenagers choose this route because they want to support the environment through their food choices, or simply because it is "in" or "trendy". Others are attracted to it for health reasons. Along with different reasons, everyone has different experiences being vegan or vegetarian as well. Some teenagers receive support from the people that surround them and others don't. Some teenagers have no problems finding vegan or vegetarian options for food, while others struggle. Some teenagers were vegan or vegetarian before high school and continued their diet; others have to adjust to a completely new lifestyle. So what is it really like to be a vegan or vegetarian in high school? As a life-long vegetarian, I have one perspective. For this article, I contacted other vegetarian teens.
Binni, a Hindu girl, is vegetarian for religious reasons but says, "I would have been vegetarian anyway." She has been vegetarian her whole life and because of this hasn't had to struggle with adjusting to a new lifestyle or trying to remember to get foods that don't have meat when she's standing in the cafeteria line at school. In fact, she said, "I just bring food from home." Her family and friends have all supported her because it is part of their lifestyle as well.
One of the questions that vegan and vegetarian teenagers are asked most often is how hard is it to find food. When asked about the contents of her meals, Binni said this, "Breakfast is usually just some orange juice and fruit. Lunch and dinner are usually granola bars, water, fruit, salads, and Indian foods." Some of her favorite Indian food dishes are roti, samosa, papads, khichdi, and dosa. Roti is a flatbread and the simplest recipe involves only flour, water, and butter which vegans can substitue for margarine. Samosas are pastry snacks that are usually filled with vegetables. Papads, which are often called pappadum, are crispy wafers that can be dipped in sauce or served with other foods. Khichdi is a rice dish that has different vegetables and spices. Dosas are spicy thin crepes, stuffed with filling, such as a potato mixture.
Another girl named Veronica had an experience that is the complete opposite from Binni's. She grew up in a Mexican household that was strongly against the idea of her becoming a vegetarian, and attended a Future Farmers of America high school that raised various animals to be sold off to slaughterhouses. Unlike Binni, she didn't receive support from anyone until her parents became very supportive in her freshman year of high school. Before then, her parents made her continue to eat some meats, mainly chicken and seafood. What made her become vegetarian when so many people who didn't agree with her views surrounded her? She described it like this. "I remember being in about first grade and finding out that the chicken nuggets in my Happy Meal came from the same animal roaming around my uncle's house. I had never connected the fact that what I was dipping in my ketchup was once alive! As soon as I figured that out, I refused to eat meat."
As for food, she described finding vegetarian food as simply being "less convenient". She would pack her lunch or eat the sides or other options that were available to her at school like pastas. In her lunch, she would make sandwiches and wraps with meat substitutes like fake turkey and ham. When she got old enough to drive to lunch from school, she said, "It was very easy finding places to eat." Many restaurants would replace animal products with other items in her meals such as tofu or more vegetables. For example, Johnny Carino's would usually replace meat with cheese or eggplant; Pei Wei would substitute tofu; and a restaurant called MeKong would substitute tofu as would several sushi restaurants. A lot of restaurants also had veggie burgers. During her last year of high school she volunteered with senior citizens during lunch and the chef there would sometimes make vegetarian meals for her. Now, she eats cereal with vegan milks such as soymilk, almond milk, or rice milk along with fruits and bagels for breakfast. She also eats vegetarian Morningstar sausage links or patties. For lunch, she eats veggie burgers, falafel wraps, eggplant pastas, pitas, rice, and tofu when she is away at college. She also eats at Taco Bell where they will replace meat with beans, or Kashi frozen dinners. If she is home she will eat stir-fried vegetables, including mushrooms, red peppers, and broccoli, along with Whole Foods' vegan shrimp. She also recommends Morningstar fake meats for lunch. As for dinner, she usually eats the vegetarian options that are on campus, or pastas, veggie burgers from Chili's, or veggie sandwiches from McCallister's. Although her diet has changed since high school because she has had to adjust to a college lifestyle, these are still good suggestions for high school vegans or vegetarians to eat.
My story fits nicely in the middle. I was born and raised as a vegetarian and recently made the switch to become vegan around a year ago. My mother raised me this way for moral reasons. She said she would never eat "anything that has eyes" and that vegetarianism is healthier for the planet and us. While my mother is very supportive and is the one that introduced me to this lifestyle, my other family members and often my peers have not been as accepting. My dad does not share our views which makes it complicated. My families on both sides often call my mother and me "tree-huggers" and look at us funny when we eat Tofurky on Thanksgiving, but I don't let it get me down. I also have gone to a high school that is open towards vegetarians and vegans, and have met quite a few vegetarians from my time there. I am now a distance learner and while socialization is not traditional, I have still "met" quite a few people that share my views. If they didn't share my views, they simply wanted to learn more about my diet choices. That does not mean I haven't faced hostility from my peers though. What I remember the most is getting pieces of meat waved around in front of me in elementary school when a boy found out I didn't eat meat.
Food hasn't been hard for me to find. I had gotten used to taking my lunch to school because until high school my school didn't have a cafeteria so that wasn't a problem. For lunch, I would eat vegetables such as cooked broccoli and carrots. I brought a lot of sandwiches and wraps, and would also eat rice cakes with almond butter or peanut butter. My favorite things to bring for lunch were vegan pesto pasta and vegan chocolate chip cookies from Whole Foods. Most restaurants will replace animal products like they did for Veronica, and like Binni, I eat a lot of fruit and vegetables. It helps because my mom shares my lifestyle so she cooks me vegan foods that we eat together.
Overall, food doesn't have to be an issue once it gets easier to figure out how to substitute things, or the right resources are found. There are vegan or vegetarian substitutes for virtually everything, even the eggs in cookies and brownies. These foods are all very tasty and filling as well. There are plenty of resources on the internet concerning vegan and vegetarian recipes. The Vegetarian Resource Group would be a good start. Books are also very helpful, and can also be read to find out more about vegetarianism and veganism in general. A good cookbook I recommend is called, Vegan Vittles and has stories about rescued animals throughout. A book that Veronica recommends is called Animal Liberation.
Another issue that comes up a lot is trying to inform people and get them to try the vegan or vegetarian lifestyle. I have gotten five of my friends to try being vegetarian. Binni said she got someone to be vegetarian once, but as she says," it only lasted a week for them." Veronica, on the other hand, described it like this, "At first I was concerned about converting everyone around me. However, over time, I became more comfortable about making my choice to be a vegetarian for myself. I've become more comfortable with my differences and how radically different my lifestyle seems to be at times. " As a vegan or vegetarian in high school, it is hard not to want to try to make other people see what is happening with the animals in the world. A good option is to get involved with organizations that share similar views. For example, Veronica worked with the Humane Society and is going to intern with The Vegetarian Resource Group, including writing articles for the Vegetarian Journal. I am writing articles for the Vegetarian Resource Group, like this one, and also volunteer with PETA, and write for an organization called Compassion Over Killing.
Becoming vegan or vegetarian in high school or continuing to be a vegan or vegetarian in high school is an important decision in ones life. Veronica had some advice, "I became a vegetarian for the ethical reasons behind that diet. If it wasn't for the compassion I feel for animals, I would not be able to distinguish what I put on my plate. Never get discouraged. The media reporting the 3934949 cases of animal abuse a year should not keep you from doing what you think is right. Nor should the people around you who are drooling while waiting for those ribs to be ready. Nor should the new 'trendy' leather or fur accessories. Choosing to be vegan is an enlightening decision that should not be affected by discouragement." Binni had some advice as well, saying, "Do it! It's a more natural and healthier lifestyle choice and you feel better about your body and soul. It's just the way it's supposed to be." As for me, I would like to say that becoming a vegan makes you feel healthier, and like you are making a good impact on the world just by changing your diet. It is completely worth it.