Vegan with a Vengeance

This strict form of vegetarianism is attracting young adherents.

By Jeff Grossman, published on March 1, 2004 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016

Historically, vegans have been misunderstood or treated with
suspicion
because of their beliefs. Now, this strict form of vegetarianism is
attracting young adherents.

The transformation goes like this: Teen learns about the
animal-rights movement. Teen shuns meat. Family and friends scratch
heads.

Although any vegetarian diet demands sacrifice, the small group of
adolescents who opt to become vegan stand out for their commitment to
principle, their political activism and their ability to withstand
pressure from outside expectations. Because of the rigor of their
beliefs, vegans have until recently been misunderstood or treated with
suspicion.

Regular, or “ovo-lacto,” vegetarians don’t eat
meat. But vegans don’t eat any sort of animal product, usually
because of the way the animals are treated, even if the animals
aren’t slaughtered. They don’t drink milk or eat eggs, honey
or anything made with gelatin.

“When I was 10, I was a closeted vegetarian. I was so afraid
to tell anyone,” says Patrick Kwan, 22, a vegan who lives in New
York City. At school, other kids pelted him with meat when they
discovered he wouldn’t touch it. “I used to run home from
school crying and call PETA,” Kwan says, referring to the People
for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, a national animal-rights
organization.

Vegans are used to scorn and misunderstanding. In 1999, a student
was suspended from a Salt Lake City–area high school for wearing a
shirt that said “vegan” on the back. School administrators
insisted that veganism was a gang-related activity. Now though,
“Most people kind of understand,” Kwan says. Veganism and
vegetarianism have become socially accepted as more people learn the
health risks of eating too much meat, says Andrea Wegner, a clinical
psychologist in Westport, Connecticut, who specializes in eating
behavior.

About 2 percent of all Americans ages 6 to 17 are vegetarian, and
0.5 percent are vegan, according to the Vegetarian Resource Group.

Vegans can have trouble getting nutrients, especially vitamins D
and B12 and iron, warns Johanna Dwyer, a nutrition scientist at the
National Institute of Health. They should get professional nutritional
guidance, she says, and make vitamin-fortified breakfast cereal a
cornerstone of their diet.