Another brilliant teenage voice writing for Equipp! Here, Kitty tells us about being a vegan teenager and her experience of following a vegan diet. A huge thank you to her for a really thoughtful and informative blog.
Being a vegan
Being a ‘vegan’ is more widely discussed than ever thanks to the growth of social media: as a teenager who uses TikTok, the discourse is constant and multiplying every day. From people sharing ‘What I eat in a day’ vlogs, to educational/lecture videos, the amount of content is huge (not to mention the other platforms like YouTube/Instagram). This means that more people are becoming educated about the dietary choice.
I’ve always been vegetarian, and my family went vegan/plant-based in 2015. I took my time, stubbornly insistent that I still liked cows milk (I didn’t) and that I didn’t like hummus (I loved it) – but this was mostly down to a discomfort with things changing. However, the overall transition was surprisingly easy, and I did not find myself ‘missing’ any foods at all. Fast forward eight years, and there is a huge availability of vegan substitute products that didn’t even exist in 2015. I often get asked by curious friends whether I ‘ever smell bacon frying and really want to eat it’ or if I ‘see a chicken nugget and wish I could eat meat’; yet this has never happened, nor have I ever possessed a desire to eat meat.
My family went plant-based primarily due to the extensive health benefits of a plant-based/vegan diet. However, any research into those benefits will overlap into research around animal abuse and mistreatment: the meat industry makes up ‘40% of the global value of agricultural output’ (source: https://www.theguardian.com/news/2018/may/07/true-cost-of-eating-meat-environment-health-animal-welfare) and an assumption that animal welfare is protected and quality of life is promoted is simply incorrect. I am proud of my personal choice to refuse to eat animal products in an effort to protect them and tackle the tragedy of the meat industry and slaughterhouses. The documentaries I would recommend are ‘Forks over Knives’ created in 2011 and ‘The Game Changers’, both vital for educating about the health benefits of veganism. For those who want to look into the humane cost of eating meat and the environmental impact, ‘Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret’ is generally viewed as one of the most influential vegan documentaries. ‘What the Health’ is a fascinating follow up from Cowspiracy, more generally discussing the corruption of the government and their impact on our eating habits and health.
It’s not always easy
As much as I love being vegan, and advocate for people to make that decision if they wish, there are moments where I have wished I wasn’t vegan or that there were more options. There are a couple of memories that particularly stick out. On a trip to Belgium with my school in February 2020, we had stopped to grab dinner before going through the Eurotunnel. After my history teacher searched each of the fast food chains and the mini-supermarkets, he concluded that there was nothing substantial for me to eat. He offered some solutions, and an apology. Around 10 minutes later I was eating onion rings, fries, and an apple – not the most nutritious, nice, or filling. Everyone else had burgers or sandwiches, and I was still surprised that not one of the chains had any vegan options at all. Of course my parents had sent me with emergency food and snacks in case this happened: but I was still disappointed. Now, thanks to the growth of vegan and plant-based options, I don’t think I would have to worry so much.
More recently, I noticed that a burger chain had removed their vegetable bean burger and replaced my go-to vegan option with all Beyond-Meat options – vegan fake meat catered to those who went vegan but miss the taste of meat. Don’t misunderstand me: I think that is great for those who do desire a meat-tasting vegan burger, but for someone who has never eaten meat and given the beyond-meat substitutes a try, I was disappointed that there was not one vegetable/beetroot burger option remaining that I could eat. There seems to be a misconception in the food industry that everyone who is vegan wants their food to imitate meat in appearance and flavour: this is not the case.
The growth of veganism
Veganism is a growing trend, and I do think there are some positives to this. There has been a significant increase in availability of foods – both in supermarkets and restaurants – and even school canteens. I have always taken in my own lunch, but the understanding that all dietary requirements and choices should be provided for is rapidly spreading. Expected provision is changing, and with that, quantities of food available; it’s not acceptable to openly provide one option anymore, and the ability to choose a meal instead of selecting the only option is appreciated.
However, labelling myself as a vegan has not always been easy; there are several widespread misconceptions about veganism which have harmed people’s views of those who choose to ‘go vegan’ and thus affected the reactions I receive. Grouped with other dietary choices, it can be seen as a ‘fad’ – often the result of celebrities and the diet trending. However, a little research can easily demonstrates that veganism is a global movement that uncovers the immorality of the meat industry and educates others on their daily eating choices.
Travelling as a vegan
Recently I went to Washington DC on a school trip, and I was interested to know how easy it was to find food having only done minimal research beforehand. Surprisingly it was not too hard – requesting the omission of sandwich fillings like cheese as well as finding dishes like vegan ramen or self-serve salad counters in museums was the best methods. I was pleased when a pizza restaurant had vegan cheese, and when the hostel had a vegan breakfast muffin. Overall I would say that it was a really good experience in preparation for another United States trip this year, without the safety of teachers to help find food. Compared to my friends, I ate a lot of vegetables – hard to find in most meat based meals – and didn’t have to go hungry.
Essentially, the wealth of information available about veganism thus means there is no longer an excuse for negative attitudes and criticisms based in myths and misconceptions, and incorrect fact.
Thank you, Kitty! Definitely food for thought…
If you’d like to follow Kitty on Instagram, you can find her at @kittysophiec
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