When it comes to social justice, kids lead the way. This year I represented a non-profit ethics-based organization, visiting local high schools and middle schools to educate students about the impact of our dietary choices on animals, the environment, and health. I was surprised how many approached me to say they want to go vegan, but their families or cultures don’t support them. How can we help aspiring vegan youth?
I had the honor of meeting Vegan Evan at the 2019 Direct Action Everywhere (DXE) Animal Rights Conference in Salt Lake City, Utah. I contacted this famous vegan kid to ask his thoughts on supporting youth with resistant parents: Vegan Evan Video. It’s helpful to collaborate with kids about bringing their parents on board with appealing food and meal ideas, films to educate about health and the environment, and resources like Vegan Evan’s website.
Evan’s friend, Josephine, also shared her take on supporting aspiring vegan kids by persuading parents: Josephine’s Video. Visiting sanctuaries is transformative for families to be educated, reify love for animals, and discover resources to go vegan. In fact, my visit to Farm Sanctuary in California 17 years ago inspired me to transcend a decade of vegetarianism and go vegan for life. I’m still a regular at sanctuaries closer to home like Sage Mountain and Wild Heart.
Since high school students got me thinking about this topic, I interviewed one I know, my vegan daughter Genevieve’s best friend Grace, who just graduated. Here’s what she has to say:
“So, I’ve been vegan almost 5 years now. ‘Went vegan when I was in 8th grade. My parents raised me vegetarian, so they understood (to some extent) the animal cruelty and environmental concerns I had with eating dairy and eggs. It was really after watching Cowspiracy that I knew I had to change my diet and lifestyle.
“My dad was the most stubborn of my parents, but lucky for me, I was also stubborn. He was worried I wouldn’t be getting the right nutrition. He’d tell me that later, as an adult, it would be fine, but while my brain and body were developing at age 14, I ‘shouldn’t mess with those essential years of growth.’ But I saw no point in waiting years down the road to make a change. It was an issue right now. Animals were in pain and suffering right now. The earth was suffering right now. He told me if I did proper research on what vitamins I’d be missing out on and how to supplement them, he could consider supporting me. So I did. (Which really was a good idea anyways).
“After talking with you I figured out B12 and iron were good supplements to take. Or at least make sure I’m getting those through spinach and whatnot. Even after doing my research, though, my dad was still in his habit of cooking Alfredo, mac’n’cheese, and other non-vegan options for dinner, which just made it hard for me. I thought it was pretty inconsiderate. But then he went out of town for a week or two and that’s when I really got the hang of it. With my mom’s full support, it was a lot easier. We found new recipes to use and bought a bunch of substitute foods. And by the time my dad got home, I already was in a routine myself so it was much easier to just work around him.”
For kids and teens looking to go vegan, there are many role models, including vegans of color. It’s vital to recognize that this movement is for everyone. On Instagram, check out inspiration from activist @that_vegan_girl_aiyana or @omarimcqueen, the 11- year-old award-winning vegan chef who just opened his own restaurant in London. For philosophical arguments to help adults understand veganism, @earthlinged is now a professor at Harvard. Websites like PETA Kids can help kids start the vegan conversation with parents, and there are abundant online resources for parents of vegan kids, such as Vegan Society or My Vegan Child.
One thing I know from my youth, rebelling against a hyper-conservative upbringing in the rural American West, is that kids will forge their own paths. If their hearts lead them to choose compassion, better health, and a sustainable future for Earth, let them show us the way.
Elisa Stone, MVLCE, is a Main Street Vegan Master Vegan Lifestyle Coach and Educator, certified in Plant-Based Nutrition with Cornell University, a tenured college professor, and non-judgmental vegan activist who grew up in rural America. She’s been vegan 17 years, vegetarian 10 years prior. Find her on the web and Instagram and contact her via email.