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Going Vegan as a Teenager
Right now I'm 16 and still living with my family, and I really want to have veganism as my lifestyle. The only problem is that my dad probably won't approve of the change, and that the food that we have in the house isn't vegan. How do you think I could get my dad to understand that it's more healthy than a meat-based diet?
Vegan Nutritionista's Answer:
I decided to go vegetarian when I was 12 years old, so I know exactly how you’re feeling. I had just learned about what happens to animals that we use for food and did not want any part of hurting them. What’s admirable about you wanting to go vegan is that you understand what it took me years to grasp; continuing to eat milk and cheese and eggs is still contributing to hurting animals. Going vegan is the only real way not to take part in the process.
What you need to remember about your parents is that because they love you, they have a fierce need to protect you and keep you safe. They are worried that by dropping a part of your diet that they believe is fundamental to human health, that you’re not going to be getting all the nutrients you need to grow your body and brain.
For anyone who is used to eating a regular diet, the concept of veganism seems extreme and unhealthy. Where will you get protein? How will your bones be strong without drinking milk? What exactly will you eat for dinner? These are questions that my site and dozens of other vegan sites discuss at length because changing your diet in such a large way causes plenty of questions.
So, my first piece of advice is to start a conversation with your parents. I recommend that you use this format:
1. Listen to what they’re saying so you can understand what they are worried about
2. Clarify/Review the concern
3. Restate the concern
4. Respond with a solution
So something like this…
You: "Mom, I just watched this documentary called Earthlings about what animals raised for food go through and I don’t want to eat meat or dairy products anymore. I want to be a vegan."
Parent: "Absolutely not. When you leave this house you can eat any way you want."
You: "Why would you not want me to be a vegan?"
Parent: "Because I’m not cooking a different meal for you."/"Because you need to drink milk to have strong bones."/"Because you’re 15 and I make the rules."/"Because meat is good for you."/"I don’t care what the animals go through." (At this point simply listen and understand what they are saying. Don’t freak out. Remember that they are worried about you and fundamentally want to protect you.)
You: "Okay, so you’re worried that you’ll have to think of something to make just for me in addition to what you’re already cooking?"/"Okay, so you’re worried that I won’t get enough calcium if I stop drinking milk?"/"Okay, so you’re worried that I’m too young to decide this on my own?"/"Okay so you’re worried that if I stop eating meat I’ll be unhealthy?"/"Okay, so you don’t want me to be a vegan because it doesn’t matter to you that the animals are hurt?"
Then you can move on to finding a solution.
"I totally get it, Mom. I wondered about how I’d get calcium without drinking milk too, so I looked it up. It turns out that although milk has a lot of calcium, it’s actually hard for our bodies to digest it so we don’t absorb as much. Do you want to look at this site where I found that info?"
Then show them a variety of different websites that explain the health benefits of a vegan diet. I’m including some from my site throughout my response, but I recommend using others as well. PCRM.org is a really comprehensive website with tons of information on healthy vegan diets. I like the food pyramid translated to vegan diets too, as a start for how it works for us.
As for getting more vegan-friendly food in the house, everyone can eat vegan food! Just ask for more fruits and vegetables and avoid eating the processed things. I bet if you search around you can find things that are vegan that everyone will enjoy.
I recommend keeping your main goal as you wanting to convince your parent that you will do it in a healthy way because, in my experience, that’s what most parents object to. Try to stay away from arguing about it and maintain respect for them. It’s a positive and joyful decision to decide you aren’t partaking in cruelty anymore and you should keep that spirit when talking to your parents about why you want to be a vegan and going forward to anyone who asks why you are vegan.
What happened with me was that I just stopped eating the meat portion of our meals. I ate more of the vegetables and whatever else was served. As I got older I would make my own main entrees. It took about 10 years before I investigated vegetarianism and I found that for all the reasons I had been a vegetarian (ethical belief against hurting animals, protection of the environment, health), it was even better to be a vegan.
I hope that you choose to do it differently. I’d love for your generation of teenagers to decide to be vegan and to be shining examples of how healthy the lifestyle can be. Make sure you’re eating tons of different kinds of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, a variety of beans, and add in nuts and seeds. As a teen you’re probably going to need to eat a lot of this stuff, and that’s great. It’s all nourishing and healthy and cruelty-free.
Congratulations to you for making such a life-altering choice!