Being a vegan kid isn’t easy. Most kids would rather be fed a Hostess Twinkie than a bowl of quinoa and veggies, and those who don’t feel that way are labeled by friends and classmates. The food industries target school kids more than they do adults, and the result is a generation expected to have a shorter lifespan than its parents. In public schools, more children buy cafeteria food than those who bring food from home. At lunchtime, I see children about 30 pounds heavier than me stuffing happy face french-fries and hamburgers into their mouths. Our school is a Healthy Howard School, meaning our school has a good menu for lunch in the cafeteria- we have a salad bar and a “Vegetable of the Week” served to those who want it. But I hardly ever see kids with salad and beans on their plates- just because the school serves these healthier foods doesn’t mean the kids eat them. When the school decided to use whole wheat bread instead of white and stopped ordering flavored milk, the kids went into a rage until they finally provided them again.
I am vegan, and I have been for at least a year now, ever since my grandmother died from her 26-year-long battle with breast cancer at the age of 69. When she died, my mother decided to put us on a vegan diet. She said that whenever we went out, we could “splurge” on our precious dairy, but she refused to let us eat any dairy in the house. At first, my twin sister, little brother, and I were enraged. We had practically lived on dairy for our entire lives. Breakfast was cinnamon toast (mine with extra butter), lunch would be Annie’s 5-minute macaroni-and-cheese and a squeezy yogurt. And every night for dinner, we would have at least three slices each of Amy’s cheese pizza, and when we ran out, we ordered pizza from the pizzeria down the street. Whenever we had vegetables, we would groan and complain. When I started eating vegetables more, I started to like them. Mom would buy new vegetables and fruits and we would all try them. At first, it was hard to see the fridge filled with vegetables and no milk products in sight. But the funky feeling in my throat whenever I ate dairy was gone, and my little brother stopped throwing up from all of the cheese and ice-cream. I still struggled with my urge to grab a sample of cheese every time we went to the food stores. But eventually, I realized that it was for the best.
People ask me what I eat, and I tell them, “fruit, veggies, beans, nuts, seeds, and wheat.” They are often shocked at the idea of a person who has never eaten meat in her life and gave up dairy. They say, “How do you live without pudding, or ice-cream, or french-fries?” Here’s the thing: I don’t. There are plenty of substitutes for the foods I used to eat. For example, Mom makes great chocolate pudding with almond milk, cocoa nibs, and avocados (my favorite fruit…they’re tasteless in the pudding). She also makes ice cream with frozen berries and agave for sweetness. (By the way, she uses her beloved VitaMix, a high-tech blender that has become our key to being happy vegans. It makes soups, smoothies, spreads, and more!). As for french-fries, slices of baked sweet potato with Himalayan sea salt for taste are very close to their unhealthy relatives.
At school, I see kids cramming Lays and fries into their mouths. At the pool, I see women whose bathing suits are bursting at the seams. In the mall, I see people swarm into the café area, drooling over burritos, pizza, and the famous Big Mac. And it makes me very, very sad to think that these people are killing themselves without even knowing. The food colorings and chemicals [found in these foods] are the equivalent of poison. Why do you think the top two causes of death in the country are heart attack and cancer? These people around us are the answer. I don’t want other people to experience what our family did when we lost our grandmother, because it was truly a horrible time. That’s why I’m lucky to have a mother like mine, who has saved our family from the unfortunate fate that her relatives have endured. (Every single family member on her side in an older generation than hers has had cancer.) And, as a holistic health coach, she is saving others, too. Maybe, she will be able to save someone’s life. Maybe a family. Maybe a whole town.
Her next step is to save kids at school, but she doesn’t have enough time or patience to deal with 1000 more kids (at least 400 in my brother’s school, 600 in ours.) That’s why we are taking our first steps. We are already spreading the word about being vegan and how drastic the changes will be. We have let countless kids try some of the food my mom makes, and countless kids have liked it. We will open their eyes to what real, whole food is, and just maybe we can help save lives too.
Tess McRae, age 12, has been a vegan for a year. She is the daughter of Sharon McRae, a holistic health coach. She lives in Columbia, Maryland, with her parents, twin sister, and little brother.
**All in the Vegan Family is a weekly column about the issues that face vegan families and kids. It is written by guest contributors and VM team writers who are parents, or interested in family issues – or it is written by vegan kids, like Tess McRae. If you would like to be a guest contributor for this column, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.