Vegan Teens Tell Us How They Manage Meals
Posted Sept 25, 2012
BY MADDY PONTZ, 17
Freestyle Staff Writer
To live the vegan lifestyle - to have a diet that excludes all
animal products and byproducts entirely - is not an easy choice to
It is often a challenge to find meals at restaurants, the general
public can be less than understanding and nutritional goals (like
getting enough protein each day) must become a central focus of a
teenager's diet. But, for many young adults who make the decision to
give up all meat and dairy products, the pros far outweigh any
inconveniences they might encounter along the way.
"I absolutely feel healthier," said Jodie Saunders, 18, a
freshman at University of Washington in St. Louis and Lancaster
native. "Initially, the transition (to a strictly vegan diet) was
extremely difficult. I missed certain foods a lot, especially meat.
But after a few weeks I noticed I had a lot more energy and my mood
improved a lot. Now I can't imagine not being vegan. Feeling better
is why I keep with it."
This feeling of improved health is common among teens who chose
to make the switch. The diet of a teenager is sometimes filled with
heavy foods, like pizza, ice cream and other delicious, but not very
healthy, options. More often than not, veganism forces people to
focus much more closely on their intake of a variety of vitamins and
nutrients than they otherwise would.
"Becoming a vegan was just another way for me to control what I
put in my body. I already run and exercise a lot, so why not become
as healthy as I can be in this way, too?" said Jordan Swartz, 22,
originally from Lancaster.
"Almost immediately, I felt more refreshed, like I was feeding my
body healthier things," said Gaby Dannehl, 17, a senior at Lancaster
Country Day School.
So if you absolutely cannot eat any animal products, what exactly
are these healthier foods being mentioned?
Vegan teenagers often have to be very creative with their daily
meals, planning their food intake in advance, as well as constantly
researching unique and filling vegan foods and recipes. Swartz
refers to "Veganomicon: The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook" by Isa Chandra
Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero as the "vegan bible" and uses it, as
well as other cookbooks and Internet sources, to "plan and cook
every meal for the rest of the week on Sundays."
"Every day for breakfast I would have spinach protein smoothie,"
Dannehl said. "Lunch was either a salad or a sandwich on Ezekiel
bread. For dinner, another salad and lots of vegetable stir-fry with
Saunders counts sushi, oatmeal, granola, pasta and, of course,
lots of fruit and vegetables as the staples of her daily diet. Other
popular vegan foods include black bean burgers, hummus, tempeh (a
patty-like soy product), seitan (a high-protein, wheat-based food,
often used as a meat substitute due to its similar texture and
appearance), sturdy, leafy greens like kale, and more beans than
most people can even imagine.
Finding a quick snack or junk food that fits a vegan diet is
often incredibly difficult if it is not planned in advance.
"I snack on peanuts or almonds, and I have fruit throughout the
day," said Saunders in an email. But not all of her on-the-go foods
are healthy. "I love Oreos! They are vegan and I am so glad! Low-
fat Chex Mix is also vegan, as well as certain types of 'butter'
popcorn. Most movie theaters use fake butter."
For a quick and vegan-friendly midday pick-me-up, a venti-sized
soy cafe latte from Starbucks can do the trick; it is packed with 11
grams of protein. Seeds (pumpkins, sunflower, flax, etc.) and nuts
(peanuts, almonds, etc.) also prove to be very popular snacks with
the vegan crowd, as are dairy-free pretzels, kale and sea salt
chips, and Twizzlers and Swedish Fish candies.
Public reactions to teen veganism are quite varied. Some
teenagers report having parents with an aversion to their diet, who
see it as a passing phase, while others, like Saunders, made the
change along with the rest of their family.
"At the end of my eighth-grade year, my parents read a nutrition
book called 'The China Study' by Dr. Colin Campbell, and decided to
make a permanent change to a vegan diet," she said. "The book
explores the correlation between nutrition and heart disease,
diabetes and cancer, and how a vegan diet has the ability to greatly
reduce the risk of these illnesses."
The opinions of friends and family matter, but so, it seems, do
those of strangers.
"It's difficult for people to relate to why I'm vegan," Saunders
Not all reactions, however, are negative.
"I also talk to people who really admire my being vegan and how
challenging it can be," Saunders said.
Another troublesome aspect of maintaining a vegan diet is
something that many teens love to do with their friends - going out
to eat at a restaurant. Many eateries are able to offer vegan fare,
but are not particularly thrilled about doing so.
"I was always able to find a few things on the menu," said
Dannehl. "But sometimes I had to ask for a meal to be prepared
differently." Saunders finds the search for vegan food to be a
challenge. She said, "If a restaurant isn't vegan-friendly, it's
always a little embarrassing to ask for special treatment," a very
popular opinion among teenagers.
However, there are options here in Lancaster for vegan food.
"I love On Orange (in downtown Lancaster.) They have spicy vegan
sausage, vegan pancakes that are incredible and tofu scrambled
eggs," Saunders said.
"Roburrito's is great and opening a location in Lancaster soon.
They offer potatoes to replace the meat usually found in burritos,
and it's run by a bunch of punk dudes, so they're really conscious
about keeping the restaurant vegan-friendly," Swartz said.
Senorita Burrita offers vegetable burritos and soy sour cream.
Cravings Gourmet Deli also will work with you to build your own
For a swankier night out, Simpson recommends The Dispensing
Company and Ma(i)son in downtown Lancaster. And for something sweet,
The Flour Child in Columbia has vegan cakes and desserts.
"There are so many easy options available that there's really no
excuse not to be a vegan," Swartz said. And don't worry about making
dietary blunders; as Simpson said, "You make mistakes all the time.
After using non-dairy creamer for three weeks, I found out that
there is milk in it. You learn. If you let every mistake stop you
from committing to a vegan diet, you'll never actually get
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