We Share Some Expert Advice for Young People and Guardians on Navigating the Vegan Lifestyle
Choosing a vegan lifestyle can be daunting for some: you may be changing a lot of your eating and shopping habits. On top of that, you may feel isolated if you don’t know other vegans. It’s not just about the food you’re eating-many people find it difficult when their ethical code does not tally with those around them.
If you’re a young person-or the guardian of one-it can seem even more intense. “There are a lot of wonderful campaigning groups and lifestyle groups for adults, some that even have a youth section, but nowhere that solely focuses on and supports teens in this very difficult time in their life,” says Laura, one of the founders of Teen VGN, an organisation that provides support and advice to young people. “We all know how hard teen years are anyway, but adding your vegetarian or vegan lifestyle on top of that can really take its toll. So we decided that setting up a group for them was the way forward and it’s been received better than we could have ever imagined.”
In line with the general growth of veganism, more and more young people are turning to the lifestyle. This is reflected in the increasing number of them joining the Teen VGN website and chatting with Laura and co-founder Kylie every week. Both Laura and Kylie have been vegan for around five years. They are based in south Wales but the website and organisation is open globally, with members from all around the world. They both run the organisation completely voluntarily and have done since its inception in March 2013-they both have full time jobs apart from TeenVGN.
Laura says: “I think it’s becoming ‘trendy’ and also, people are becoming more aware of their health and what they are putting into and onto their bodies. I think sometimes we underestimate how much these youngsters take in and how knowledgeable they are of certain topics already. Whatever angle they come at it, we are open to their views and their questions and are happy to support them however we can. Not everyone come at it from an ethical stance, some come from a health point of view, or even just because they know it’s better for the environment. All we can say to them is never be afraid to ask questions, and don’t beat yourself up if you ever make a small mistake. Learn from it and use it to educate others.”
According to newbie vegan Sophia, 15, having support is essential. “I haven’t eaten meat since I was eight years old,” she says. “My parents were fine about it. I didn’t make a huge connection between animals and farming at that time, I was just a really picky eater. About a year ago, I started paying more attention to animal cruelty when I learnt about vivisection and animal testing on things like make-up. I wanted to be cruelty-free when I bought cosmetics, and soon after that I thought it was crazy to be putting cruelty-free products on my face, and not paying the same attention to my food.
“My parents were a bit concerned when I said I didn’t want to eat things like dairy, eggs, and honey. My mum thought I would be really limited in what I could eat and was a bit worried I was doing it to try and lose weight, or to try and be ‘different’. But I actually don’t want to stand out, and actually wish I had more friends who were vegan too. It can be quite lonely.”
In fact this sense of isolation is something Laura and Kylie are hoping to alleviate with support. “Being vegan can sometimes make you feel even more alone, especially when your peers don’t see eye to eye with you about things,” says Laura. “It’s important to not get too offended (we know this can be hard when you’re so passionate about your lifestyle), but be open to conversation, respect their views but offer your input, do your research and maybe give them some tips or invite them to watch a documentary with you.
“This is the start of helping your friends see that you have chosen a compassionate lifestyle, in turn hopefully letting you feel less isolated and more involved in making a difference. I think sometimes the feeling of isolation can be resolved by changing our attitudes towards situations.” Of course, you can also join our website and come along to our summer camp and teen zones which we host throughout the country. We’ve had some amazing feedback from teens over the last few years telling us how much more confident being a part of a teen vegan community has made them. Chatting and putting the world to rights with other young people can really elate your spirit and heart for your lifestyle.”
The scrutiny Sophia felt from her parents was a huge challenge to overcome. What advice would Laura and Kylie give to caregivers? “First thing I would say is to be open and have a discussion with your teen about why they have chosen a vegan lifestyle,” says Laura. “Ask them their reasons, understand that they have got this information from somewhere, maybe even ask them to share with you where they got their information from. Do your own research too and don’t be afraid to ask groups like ourselves if you have any other more specific questions.”
Teen VGN is available on social media: @teenvgn (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube.)
For more information about the Summer Camp, please visit www.teenvgn.com/camp.
Teen VGN Summer Camp
VGN Summer Camp is an annual camp for young people, open to everyone whether vegan, vegetarian, meat reducers or just animal lovers in general. August 2016 will be the second camp: the first one sold-out within 34 hours of tickets going on sale.
Laura says: “We’re back with over double the amount of spaces and a shiny new state of the art venue in the heart of south Wales. At our camp you’ll find campaigns and outreach talks and workshops, parties, movie nights, games nights, skill development of things like survival in the wild and sprouting your own food.
“We’re also hoping to have some special guests and camp fire nights complete with vegan s’mores and music. It’s a place for these compassionate young people to come and meet new friends of like lifestyle, educate and increase their knowledge about veganism, animal rights, our environment and their health but also tackling other social justice and common problems that they face on a daily basis at school and in general life e.g. LGBTQ+ rights, human rights, politics and other issues.”