What's a Vegan?
By Kristin, age 14, California
Before I begin this article, I want to make it very clear that I am not saying that people who eat meat are bad people. I'm just voicing my opinions and explaining what I believe to be the healthiest lifestyle I can live.
When I began learning about animal cruelty, I chose to become a vegetarian, but as I continued my research, I realized that in order to live a completely cruelty-free lifestyle I needed to stop my consumption of dairy and eggs too. So I became a vegan, and I have never been happier about the choice I made. And when you think about it, animal products are gross. Would you drink your mom's breast milk? No? But you'll drink a different specie's breast milk? Hmm. And how about eggs, you ask? Well, eggs are not only bad for you, but are totally gross. These are unhatched eggs ... I'll say it another way ... These are almost baby chickens!
Vegans are but one type of vegetarian. There are many different kinds, ranging from pescatarians, who abstain from meat, but not fish, to macrobiotic, emphasizing Asian vegetables and non-processed whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. To understand the differences, I refer you to definitions posted by Jolinda Hackett on about.com.
"Vegans do not eat meat of any kind and also do not eat eggs, dairy products, or processed foods containing these or other animal-derived ingredients such as gelatin. Many vegans also refrain from eating foods that are made using animal products that may not contain animal products in the finished process, such as sugar and some wines. Vegans also do not use any animal products, such as suede, leather, down, etc. There is some debate as to whether certain foods, such as honey, fit into a vegan diet." (vegetarian.about.com)
I totally understand the thinking that vegans can't eat anything. I thought it was pretty severe too before I really learned about it. I eat everything I could eat before, just different versions. I can eat burgers (Gardenburgers), chicken sandwiches (Boca), cookies (Uncle Eddie's Vegan Cookies), ice cream (Soy Dream), and for anything that doesn't have a vegan alternative, I create one. And really, who could live happily in a world of salad after salad?
So, What Do You Eat?I love being a vegan. I am not deprived. Actually, I have a much lower interest in food than I did before. I feel full after 4 bites of a healthy meal. I made this choice myself because I love animals and I love myself, and I realized that loving myself means treating my body like a temple, not a garbage bin.
So, to clarify, I do not eat meat, dairy, eggs, refined sugar, artificial sweeteners, or caffeine, and I eat very little saturated fat. I will not drink alcohol (I'm underage now), I will not smoke, and I do not take medications unless absolutely necessary. Now you're thinking that I'm a freak? Sure, you can think that. My lifestyle is foreign and strange to most people, but I know that I'm doing the best thing I can do for my body, for animals, and for the environment. I also know that I am unlikely to end up with heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or diabetes, so that's another comforting thought. The really cool part about my life is that I can be healthy and eat cupcakes (homemade vegan delicacies, of course). So what's your excuse?
Is This Vegan?Now I cannot say this enough. Use your head, and read the ingredients. Read the ingredients of everything you pick up, and trust no one, no one. Read the ingredients!
In the list of ingredients a product will say if it has eggs or milk, but there are many foods that seem safe, but aren't. Let's start with refined sugar. There's a debate over whether or not refined sugar is vegan. No matter if it is or isn't, it's so bad for you that you shouldn't think of putting it in your body, and because in the refining process the filters they use are made of animal bone char. Yes, it is what it sounds like, the burned bones of animals. Yuck.
Another one is honey. Some say that honey is ok because bees do not have a central nervous system, and others say it is not because bees are often killed in the process. Make your own choice on this one. Casein, sometimes called caseinate, is found in many soy cheeses. It is a milk protein and therefore not vegan. Stay away from this. Casein is an addictive substance, which is why when we give up cheese we want it so badly. It will just draw you back to your old unhealthy lifestyle.
Visit this website for a list of animal ingredients:
Is a Vegan Diet Safe?Yes! It is the healthiest thing you can possibly do for your body. Many people think that you will be deficient in protein, calcium, B12, B2, etc., but one thing that many people don't know is that animal protein sucks - it's bad for you. And since we're on the topic of calcium, milk is not the only place to get it. In fact, it's the worst place to get calcium. It's fattening, and those 'got milk?' ads telling us that milk does a body good are liars and they know it.
Protein, calcium, B12, and B2 are all essential for the body to run properly, but by eating other foods such a soy products and fortified cereals or nut milks, you're getting all the things you need. If you'd like to do even more for your health consider a food based supplement like Super Foods Plus (herbdoc.com). Although a vegan diet is far healthier than a meat based diet, you should still know the facts. So visit this website for info on teen veganism: http://www.vegfamily.com/vegan-teens/index.htm
How to TransitionEveryone does this differently. Some people like a gradual transition, like getting rid of meat one week and milk the next, etc., but for me, that was just delaying what I knew was right. So I went from being a meat and dairy eater to vegan in two days. That was what was right for me, so do what works for you. When you eliminate meat, dairy, refined sugar, white flour, and saturated fats from your diet you will feel like a new person. I have never felt better than I do now, and one thing that surprised me is that I don't feel hungry like I used to. Now, if I wake up and I have a few pieces of fruit, I'm satisfied until 3 or 4 in the afternoon. I have some more fruit or a Larabar and I'm cool till dinner. When you eat crap, you feel like crap. When you eat foods that are good for you, you feel good. Isn't that logical? For help with the transition, visit: http://www.vegetarianteen.com/stories.shtml
Parents, Grandparents, Siblings, & Strangers: How to DealMany people think that a vegan diet is crazy. Your family may not be so keen on the idea of you preparing your own meals and refusing to eat your grandma's Thanksgiving turkey, but you are your own person and your parents won't actually shove the meat in your mouth. Some people who are unaware of the health benefits of veganism may think that it is unhealthy or that it's some kind of eating disorder. This is not so. If people stopped eating meat and dairy heart disease rates would plummet and no one would have high cholesterol. At school you'll find that not only will you have to bring your own food, but many kids will suddenly think you're a tree hugging hippie ... but who needs people like that? In situations like family gatherings and parties, offer to bring a homemade vegan dish that everyone can try. Then you're being generous and you don't have to starve.
Get A Vegetarian Starter Kit!If you're ready to make the switch, you can get a free vegetarian starter kit mailed to you (or if you're impatient like me, you can download it as a PDF file).
In ConclusionBy shunning unhealthy foods like meat, dairy, eggs and refined crap, you're doing the best thing you can for yourself, and not only do you feel and look better, but you're safeguarding yourself from things like heart disease in the future. Now is the time to stop slowly killing yourself and get healthy!
Please visit my website about animal rights and veganism, and get a list of my fave vegan products at web.mac.com/vegandarling. Also check out my Vegan Meal Plan in this issue of SDM.
My information was obtained from the following sources:vegetarianteen.com
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