Pearl's Perspective: How to be a Vegan in High School

by Pearl Buckley

Have you ever thought about going vegan but thought it too daunting a goal? Or, perhaps you’ve never considered veganism, but want to know more. Well, veganism is a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose. The key words here are possible and practicable. This may seem difficult as a highschooler but with some effort, veganism is entirely doable. All it takes is a little preparation, and you’ll be munching on tofu with the best of them.

The first thing one should consider before making the leap is why. Popular reasons are animals, the environment, or health. People will most likely ask questions, and it’s helpful to have a clear and articulate response prepared beforehand, so you don’t look like a fool in front of your friends! (vegan rule #7: always have the upper hand in conversations. Always.) Don’t get snobby with it, of course. Nobody likes a preachy vegan. That isn’t to say you shouldn’t have a few snarky comebacks to deal with the inevitable quip at your expense. If I had a nickel for every time someone said “but bacon..” to me, I’d probably have about 15¢, but gosh darn a sassy response would’ve been great. (And if you can figure out a comeback to “but plants have feelings” please, hit me up.)

It definitely helps to make the transition into veganism slowly. You can totally take the plunge, but it would be much simpler and less stressful if you went vegetarian first, and then cut out eggs, then cheese, etc. A little exploration beforehand helps, too. Before I went vegan, I made sure to sample all the available vegan ice cream brands in my immediate vicinity so that when I stopped eating dairy, I wouldn’t have an ice cream crisis on my hands. (Pro tip, Ben and Jerry’s has vegan flavors!) My diet was mostly vegan even before I made the transition, but I figured out what substitutions I would use for my standard meal first. Instead of cheese to season my food, I’ll use homemade teriyaki sauce, soy sauce, sriracha or veganaise (perhaps the best substance known to humankind). Try out a few things, figure out what you like and what would work as a whole meal, and then make the transition, and I guarantee you things will be insanely easier (and infinitely more delicious).

Being vegan doesn’t necessarily mean being healthy, of course. If you’re going to be vegan, do your best not to die while keeping the animals from death. Vegans are notoriously nutrient deficient. You’re probably going to have to buy multivitamins, because no amount of mushrooms is going to keep your vitamin D levels high enough (unless you eat a freakishly large amount of mushrooms, in which case, hats off to you, I guess). I’m told there are tasty gelatin free gummy bear multivitamins out there.

Regardless, you should still focus on foods that get you the nutrients you need, instead of eating Takis for every meal. You’ll need the most of B12, because the two sources of B12 are meat and dirt. There are some fortified foods with B12 in them, but for the most part vitamins are the way to go to get an adequate dose of B12. Watch out though, when I was vegetarian I bought B12 pills that are inexplicably made of milk (hello, vegans need B12 the most) and I don’t drink milk, obviously. Remember to check the label for the ingredients first. Another thing (that everyone asks about, for the record) is protein. The recommended amount for a teenager is around 50 grams, but how do you get that without the delicious, savory taste of corpse in your mouth? It’s the easiest thing in the world to get protein, trust me. There’s protein in everything. Tofu is my personal favorite, but there’s tons of protein in beans, tempeh, chickpeas, lentils,

nuts, quinoa, etc., and if you wanted to drop a little extra money there are tons of delicious meat replacements out there. (The beyond burger... yum...) Trader Joe’s has delicious and protein packed vegan meatballs that I’m in love with, and they only take a minute and a half to prepare in a microwave. If you can find vegan protein bars, snack on them throughout the day. Vitamin D is important, too, especially if you’re a recluse like me and never venture out into the light of day. There isn’t really a way to get this besides the sun and supplements, so remember to get vitamins. Calcium set tofu, calcium fortified milk/yogurt alternatives, soya and linseed bread fortified with calcium, kale, pak choi, okra, figs, chia seeds, almonds, or let’s be real, more supplements, are all great ways to get extra calcium in your diet, and chia seeds, linseed, hemp seeds, walnuts and vegetable oil pack some serious Omega 3 and Omega 6 fats.

There is, of course, the question of price. Aren’t vegan diets expensive? They certainly can be, especially if you buy a lot of replacement meats and cheeses, but unprocessed whole foods are some of the least expensive things in the supermarket. Buy starches, vegetables, fruits, legumes and nuts, and to make things even cheaper, buy in bulk. Make simple recipes, because the more complex they get, the more expensive the ingredient list gets. You can also freeze your leftovers for easy meals. Spices can easily make a simple meal taste like it took hours to create. You’re going to have to start packing your lunches anyways. I assemble my meals the night before so I don’t have to worry about packing if I’m running late in the morning, which I frequently am.

There are apps to help you on your journey, of course. While my experience with “is it vegan?” apps has been totally disappointing, I’m sure that somewhere there exists a functional version. Additionally, there’s an app called HappyCow that helps you locate vegan restaurants or restaurants with vegan options. Don’t worry if there aren’t exclusively vegan restaurants anywhere near you, though. A surprising amount of fast food restaurants you love have vegan options, and Taco Bell is basically vegan fast food heaven. All you have to do is order something Fresco Style and it’s vegan! Most restaurants have a vegetarian or vegan symbol next to dishes, and most things that aren’t vegan can have items removed to make it vegan. One thing that helps in restaurants to make meals more substantial is getting clever with your substitutions. Adding things like potatoes where there were once no potatoes can help beef up (ha ha) your meal. One thing to keep in mind is to be clear with what you want. Sometimes, it can feel a little embarrassing to order things vegan, but it’s best to be clear about what you want so the chef knows what to make.

Hope these tips help! With a little effort and planning, you can totally do this. Good luck, earthling.