The Young Person’s Guide to Veganism!
What is veganism?
Why are people vegan?
Because they respect animals
Because they care for the planet
For the advantages to people
For their health
Because of a combination of reasons
But, but, but …
Don’t vegans just live on lettuce?
I can’t cook to save my life!
I don’t want to be awkward
Aren’t vegans really wimpy at P.E.?
What about my nutrients and things?
Is it just about food?
How do you go about it?
General tips on how to talk about veganism
What if my parents/carers don’t let me?
I will get teased by my friends
My school or college isn’t exactly vegan friendly
I don’t know anybody else who is vegan
What difference will it make, anyway?
A vegan (pronounced Vee-g’n) is somebody who does not eat, drink, wear or use anything that has come from animals in any way whatsoever. So veganism is our lifestyle, and we are vegans!
As vegans, we try to completely avoid using animals for anything. Here are some of the main ways in which animals are used in daily life:
- meat (this includes fish, chickens and all other poultry)
- dairy products (such as milk, butter, cheese, cream and milk chocolate)
- eggs (also in lots of cakes, mayonnaise and vegetarian Quorn products)
- honey (yes, bees are animals!)
- gelatine (made from bone and connective tissue, used in many sweets – ew!)
- whey powder (dried milk, found in lots of crisps and cereals)
- leather (including suede), fur, wool, silk and down (the feathers used in bedding)
Also, many toiletries, cosmetics and cleaning products are tested on animals. Animals are also used in some sports, in zoos and circuses and for other forms of entertainment.
Vegans, contrary to popular belief, most certainly DO: eat, drink, sleep, take showers, play games, do chores and wear clothes! They just DO NOT use things along the way that involve the exploitation of animals. Instead, they choose from plenty of delicious and beautiful alternatives that are perfectly vegan, readily available and easily affordable.
Good question! People might become vegan:
Vegans respect all living creatures and have genuine concerns about the ways in which they are used. Vegans won’t buy, eat or use animal products because they won’t support animals being exploited in this way. Any compassionate person would not like to have any living creature suffer unnecessarily, but over 1 billion animals are reared and killed for food in the UK every year. By choosing a plant based diet, vegans do not contribute to this mass slaughter of creatures. A lot of people who eat meat would even be shocked and upset if they were to see where their food came from.
Go on, what’s it all about then?
In a lifetime a meat-eater will literally chomp their way through a huge number of animals. In order to meet consumer demand, farming methods have had to evolve massively. There would be no other way to make animals grow so fat, and so quickly, other than by factory farming. Today most of our meat and dairy products come from intensive farming methods which essentially treat animals as machines and their products as profits. These factories are getting ever bigger, faster and cheaper.
But animals are not machines, and their homes should not be factories. If you live with animals at home you will know that they can feel pain, stress and fear just like we can. Factory farming gives little or no consideration to the animals as living things. They are often stressed, crowded and exhausted. Costs are kept to a minimum by not allowing them to follow their natural instincts, not providing them with anywhere near enough space, or with the care that they need.
That can’t be true; the government would do something about it, right?
Wrong. There aren’t as many laws protecting animals as you might think. Chickens raised for meat in intensive farms, for example, are squished into giant sheds with only an area about the size of an A4 piece of paper for each bird and are given no natural light or bedding. The birds often attack each other out of frustration from being in such an unnatural environment. Hardly surprising, really. Just watch the contestants fighting on an episode of Big Brother! And they all have enough food, water, light and comfortable bedding.
Slaughter itself is also a stressful experience for the animals and many of them suffer a slow and painful death when they are not properly stunned before being killed.
That's terrible! But surely eating fish is ok, isn’t it? They swim free in the sea!
Fish have highly complex and developed nervous systems. Fish most certainly can feel pain and suffocate to death when they are pulled out of the water. And, unfortunately, the fishing nets used catch more than just fish. Lots of other animals – such as dolphins and turtles – are also caught and killed unnecessarily.
We need omega-3 though
Yes, but since that is also found in plant sources such as flax oil, there really is no excuse for that fishy nonsense! See more about where to get all your necessary nutrients and things in a later section.
What about eggs?
Most laying hens are kept in cages so small they can't even stretch their wings, peck or scratch the ground. They are sent to slaughter after a year of egg production when their yield drops. New chicks are bred to replace the hens but only the females will go on to lay eggs. The male chicks are next to worthless to the farmer and, at just a day old, they are either gassed to death or minced alive.
If I go vegetarian, will that help?
Cutting meat and fish out of your diet is a great step in the right direction, but dairy cows (who produce milk) are not given any easier lives than ones bred for meat. Like humans, cows only produce milk after giving birth, so they are kept in a constant cycle of pregnancy throughout their lives. Dairy cows produce ten times more milk than their udders (cow boobs!) can hold, placing them under enormous and continual strain. When they physically cannot produce any more milk, it is no longer profitable for the farmer to keep them and so, udderly exhausted, they are sent to slaughter. The baby calves that should be drinking their mother’s milk are taken away almost immediately: the males are killed straight away or fattened up and killed for the veal market.
There is no system of farm production that does not involve the exploitation and suffering of animals. If a person stops eating meat but continues to eat dairy produce and eggs, they still contribute to the demand for food products that cause this immense suffering.
But organic and/or free range meat, eggs and dairy products don't cause suffering ... do they?
People who are sickened by the cruelty of factory farming sometimes think that free range or organic produce is the answer. Sadly, it is not. Male offspring in the dairy and egg industries are equally worthless and share the same fate as those who are reared the ‘regular’ way. The term ‘free-range’ can also be misleading, and organic animals are still held in captivity.
Vegans respect animals and will not exploit them for any reason.
For more in-depth information about the exploitation of animals, check out:
How we choose to live has a direct impact on the environment, and we’re not just talking about switching the television off stand-by. A varied vegan diet uses half the amount of land used to produce a vegetarian diet and one third the amount used for a typical meat-based diet. Plants and crops also require less water. For example, to produce 1kg of wheat requires 120 litres of water, while 1 kg of beef requires 3,700 litres! And don’t forget that all the belching, flatulence and faeces (ahem ... burps, farts and poo!) that comes from the 45 million sheep and cattle that are reared for the meat and dairy industries in the UK alone soon adds up. Methane (the nasty gas that is produced) is one of the main gases contributing to global warming.
So that’s land. Out at sea, fishing is a massive threat to sea life where the techniques used, like trawler nets, can destroy whole eco-systems. Farmed fish are not the solution either as they consume large amounts of wild fish: It takes up to 5 kg of wild fish to produce 1 kg of farmed fish! And, these days, sea fish are full of nasty pollutants like PCBs, dioxins and mercury.
For more in-depth information about the environmental costs of raising animals, check out:
So now, if we work it out ... population of the world divided by the land available, minus food used to fatten up animals for meat, milk and eggs = ?
Yes, you’re probably wondering if producing meat, eggs and dairy products consumes so much land, crops and water, how can there be enough left over for everyone to eat? Sadly, the answer is that there isn’t. One million people are estimated to be starving and changing our eating habits could help to ensure there is more to go around for everybody.
The basic problem is one of science. At every stage in a food chain energy is lost to the environment, used by the animal for growing and living, or wasted as poo. By eating lower down the food chain, and for vegans this means eating fruits, vegetables, pulses and grains, we can become more efficient users of our resources reducing the impact we have.
For more in-depth information about the global food crisis, check out:
For some reason vegans have been stereotyped as being an unhealthy lot, but a varied vegan diet provides all the nutrients we need for an extremely healthy life. Your parents haven’t been lying all this time – fruit and vegetables really are good for you! Plant based food is higher in fibre and lower in saturated fat than meat, eggs and dairy products, which means that a well-planned vegan diet can also decrease your chances of getting heart disease, diabetes and even some cancers, such as colon cancer.
For more information about the possible health benefits of a vegan diet, check out:
For more details about nutrition see later on this page.
For most vegans they feel compelled by a mixture of all of these reasons. Good behaviour can usually be argued for in a number of ways and what better than doing so for the animals, for the planet, for other people and for ourselves!
So you’ve heard the story, you’ve read the facts, and now you might be thinking about this whole veganism malarkey. But what about this? But what about that? But what about the other? You are sure to have many doubts, and we’ve tried to cover as many frequently asked questions as we can here. If you have any other questions, please feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
An old cliché about vegans is that they suddenly lose their taste buds and nibble on horrible, tasteless foods that make them look pale and weak. Fortunately, not only is vegan food very good for you, but it also tastes great and looks amazing! Some of the most colourful dishes and the most appetising flavours you’ve ever seen are the norm for a vegan meal. Many items in a “normal” diet are in fact vegan!
There are loads of gorgeous dishes that can be made with things like lentils (lovely dhal curry), chickpeas (scrummy falafel and hummus), beans (chilli non-carne or bean burgers) or tasty tofu (stir-fry or tofu nuggets). It all might seem a bit alien and a bit ‘healthy’ at first, but don’t worry! You can just start by getting simple vegan alternatives for all your favourite foods, and even ‘junk’ foods, if you like. Here are just a few examples of what you can buy today:
- Burgers, sausages, bacon (Redwood or Fry’s fake meat products, some Linda McCartney products)
- Fishless fingers
- Soya/rice/almond/oat milk
- Chocolate (Organica, Plamil and Booja Booja)
- ‘Cheese’ (hard cheese, cream cheese, Redwood’s super-melting Cheezly, Sheese and Tofutti)
- Ice-cream (Tofutti, B’Nice, Oatly, Swedish Glace)
- Cream (Alpro, Soyatoo vegan whipping and squirty cream)
- Custard (readymade from Alpro, or make your own with Bird’s custard powder and soya milk)
- Yoghurt (Alpro, Sojasun)
- Mayonnaise (Plamil vegan mayo)
- Margarine: Pure, Suma, White Flora spread
- Biscuits (most Bourbon biscuits, most Ginger Nuts and Hobnobs)
- Crisps (Golden Wonder: Pickled Onion, Salt & Vinegar; Wheat Crunchies: Worcester Sauce flavours, many Kettle Chips)
You may find other vegan brands of similar items in your nearest shops.
Remember to check those ingredients, even the complicated-looking ones, as these can change.
If you don't feel that you can go 100% vegan straight away then take it gradually by cutting out non-vegan foods bit by bit. It’s not an exam! Nobody is marking you on your performance. It’s your choice; do it your way. If you are already veggie then a good start would be to replace the dairy foods with the vegan alternatives we have listed in this booklet. It’s easy! Or, perhaps aim for just one vegan day a week and increase it when you feel more comfortable. Some people try changing their breakfasts first, then their lunch, then their dinner. If you are going to be cutting out meat too, then try the range of meat alternatives available. Once you get going you'll be surprised at how great vegan food can be!
Don’t worry, there are loads of meals on the menu that are easy peasy to make. You can ‘veganise’ all your usual favourite dishes and also look forward to making new ones. Here’s how.
There are heaps of vegan choices to get you going with your day, including all the usual things like cereal or porridge, toast, crumpets, and of course plenty of fruit. Just replace the milk with fortified soya or rice milk and the butter with dairy-free margarine. Enjoy with jam, marmalade, yeast extract (e.g. Marmite), nut butter or fruit. Fancy a fry up? Serve grilled or fried tomatoes and mushrooms with baked beans, vegan ‘bacon’ rashers, vegan sausages, scrambled tofu and toast. Or, for a special treat, how about pancakes? They’re easy to make without eggs or dairy milk. Sprinkle with sugar and lemon juice for an extra bit of zing!
Here are some sandwich suggestions to get you started – but you will soon come up with your own favourites!
- Hummus (a chickpea dip that comes in a wide variety of delicious flavours such as caramelised onion and roasted red pepper, or you can easily make your own)
- Vegan cheese and pickle with tomato and lettuce
- Vegan ‘bacon’, lettuce, tomato
- Vegan pâté and grated carrot
- Peanut butter and banana
- Have a look at our sandwich fillings page too
Chuck in a bag of nibble sized veggies such as cherry tomatoes or carrot sticks for a colourful crunch. Add a small carton of soya yoghurt/dessert, a packet of vegan crisps, some vegan cake or a flapjack to your box and you'll have a lunch that will make your mates beg for some! If you’re eating at home you might go for some vegan pies or pasties; pasta and vegetables, bean or rice salads; yummy soup; exotic wraps, jacket potato, or just simply beans on toast will do the trick.
For more lunch box ideas checkout http://veganlunchbox.blogspot.com/
Vegan convenience foods are great for when you’re in a rush but learning how to cook for yourself brings its own set of rewards. It isn’t all about pressing, soaking, blending and fermenting stuff all the time – it can be fun and easy, not to mention cheap and healthy – to prepare your own meals from scratch. You also get to control what goes in, so you can cater to your own tastes much better – and homemade stuff really impresses other people too!
The Vegan Society sells lots of cook books. We also have recipes on our website at http://www.vegansociety.com/lifestyle/food/recipes/ and there are loads of other vegan recipes on the net. Just do a search and get cooking!
Here's a quick one to get you started:
Spaghetti Veganese topped with grated vegan ‘cheese’ (Serves 4)
- About 400g of spaghetti (check it doesn't contain egg)
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 onion, peeled and chopped
- 1 clove of garlic, peeled and crushed
- 1 courgette, chopped
- 6 medium-sized mushrooms, sliced
- 1 red pepper, chopped
- 1 yellow pepper, chopped
- 1 tin of tomatoes
- Soya mince, veggie mince, TVP mince (not Quorn™ as it contains egg) or cooked green lentils. Rehydrate the mince according to the packet (if necessary).
- Fresh basil - 10 leaves (optional)
- Vegan cheese (preferably the melting variety)
How to make it:
- Heat the oil in a frying pan on a medium heat. Add the onion and fry for a minute or two then add the garlic.
- Add the courgette, mushrooms and peppers and fry gently for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Stir in the tomatoes and continue to stir until the mixture begins to simmer.
- Now stir in the veggie mince or green lentils and leave to simmer - stirring occasionally.
- Prepare a large pan of boiling water and drop in the spaghetti (break it in half if you have to, rather than risk scalding your hands). Boil until tender and then drain.
- Place the drained spaghetti on the plates and spoon on the veganese sauce. Sprinkle with grated vegan cheese and garnish with a basil leaf.
This sauce is also great on baked potatoes or topped with mash as shepherd’s pie.
Loads of desserts either are vegan already or can easily be made vegan. Again, it’s probably cheaper and healthier to make your own. You could try cherry pie, apple crumble, black forest gateau, chocolate brownies, raspberry jelly cocktails, baked pears and banana cake – all in one week! All these desserts are lots of fun and really easy to make from scratch. Just remember that practice makes perfect! Serve with dairy-free ice cream, cream or custard.
For the crumble:
- 225g plain flour
- 150g dairy-free margarine
- 100g brown sugar
- pinch salt
For the fruit:
- 455g fruit (apples, pears, raspberries, blackberries, blackcurrants, raisins, grapes – whatever you’ve got!)
- 3 tablespoons of sugar, use less depending on how sweet the fruit is.
How to make it:
- Mix all of the above together with your thumbs and fingertips until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. It shouldn’t be too dry, but it shouldn’t stick to your fingers either. More sugar will results in a crunchier, more biscuit-like crumble.
- Cut the fruit into a variety of different sizes, smaller pieces will make it juicier, but sometimes it’s nice to crunch into a larger slice as well.
- Put the fruit into an over proof dish and top with the crumble mixture.
- Place in the oven, 350 degrees for 45 minutes, but checking it now and then.
- 3 bananas
- 100g sugar
- 25g dairy-free margarine
- 50ml soya milk
- 1tsp vanilla essence
- 200g self-raising flour
- 1½ tsp baking powder
- ½ tsp salt
Have all the ingredients measured out ready, because once you start mixing everything it is better for the springiness of the cake not to stop until it’s in the oven!
How to make it:
- Prepare your baking tray by smearing with lots of extra margarine.
- Mash 2 bananas until nice and gooey.
- Add the sugar, margarine, milk and vanilla and whisk. Keep it as light as possible, and don’t bash the mixture around too much.
- Then add the flour, baking powder and salt, and fold in using a big spoon. Stir gently, and as soon as all the flour is absorbed, pour into the cake dish and set gently into the oven. Bake for about 45 minutes at 350 degrees. Try not to open the oven door until the cake has risen properly.
- Once the cake has cooled, slice the other banana – carefully - in half lengthways.
- Mash the one half up and mix it with lots of icing sugar, to taste.
- Heat the mixture GENTLY in a non-stick pan, stirring constantly for about ten minutes. Spread immediately over the cake.
- Use the other half of the banana for decoration, place on top, flat side down, for a happy banana-looking finish.
- Serve with dairy-free custard or cream.
There are more recipes available on our interactive CD-ROM, check it out here:
And on our website at: http://www.vegansociety.com/lifestyle/food/recipes/
You won’t be! You don’t have to kick up a fuss anywhere once you know what to do.
Going out for dinner
You’re a customer, not a hermit crab, so speak up! Most restaurants want your custom, and will try their best to be accommodating. But you can’t expect the restaurant to automatically check your food for animal products if you don’t ask them to. If you’re heading to a restaurant and you’re not sure if they’ll have vegan meals on the menu it’s a really good idea to call ahead. Discussing a vegan option beforehand saves faffing around at the table. Remember to be polite and thank them nicely for their trouble.
Meals like a baked potato (ask for dairy-free margarine) with hummus and salad or baked beans should be easy for most places to make. Sometimes, depending on the restaurant, they can even do things like vegetable pizza or pasta without the cheese, or cheese ploughman’s (again, without the cheese!). So you know you’ll definitely have something to eat. It’s also easy to eat at ethnic restaurants. With Indian food, ask them to use vegetable oil rather than butter ghee and with Thai food ask for no fish sauce. Chinese, Lebanese and Turkish cuisine can all be fairly vegan-friendly too.
If the restaurant is unsure about what to cook, you could offer to send our Vegan Catering for All guide to them, which contains everything they need to know.
Take a look at 'Vegetarian Britain' published by Vegetarian Guides (available from the Vegan Society) to find out where the vegan-friendly places are in your area. The numbers and variety are growing all the time. www.happycow.net is also a fabulous resource.
Round your mate’s house
If you are invited over to somebody’s house to eat with non-vegans, make sure that you let your friend know well in advance. Again, don’t be shy, or you may end up with a plate of dry bread and lettuce. You could find out what everyone else will have to eat and offer to bring something with you to share. Or, if you’re dealing with an enthusiastic chef in the making, give them one of your favourite vegan recipes to try (and make sure to thank them by eating it all!). If it still turns out that there is little or nothing for you to eat, don’t make it seem like a big deal and nobody will think it is. Smile, and get on with having a good time. If you’re still hungry afterwards you can easily whip up another snack when you get home, or if it’s a sleepover, wait until the midnight feast and open some of your own vegan goodies to share.
When you go to a party it can seem like everything is made of animals in one way or another. One idea is to offer to make the cake yourself. Or buy some ice-cream and biscuits to take with you to share with everyone else. There are loads of vegan treats that are absolutely yummy – your friends just don’t know about them yet!
When out and about or travelling by train etc. vegan munchies and meals may be hard to find. Spare yourself learning the hard and hungry way: be prepared and take some food with you! Look at our packed lunch suggestions and stock up on snacks like cereal bars, flapjacks, nuts and dried fruit, fresh fruit, crackers or crisp bread - they can be real life savers!
Of course not! Far from being weak there are loads of fit and strong vegans out there who credit their wins to the healthy vegan diet. Vegan athletes include:
- Carl Lewis, winner of 9 Olympic gold medals
- Pat Reeves, world power-lifting champion
- Scott Jurek, 2005 and 2006 winner of Badwater Ultramarathon (‘the toughest footrace on earth’)
- James Southwood, British savate (French kickboxing) champion
- Brendan Brazier, 2003 and 2006 Canadian 50km Ultra Marathon champion and Ironman triathlete
- Sally Eastall, Olympic marathon runner
- Robert Cheeke, bodybuilder
- Fiona Oakes, marathon runner
- Robbie Hazeley, bodybuilder
- Isis Clegg-Vinell, 2005 British gymnastics champion
- Rob Bigwood, top arm wrestler
For diet and training tips check out:
This is the very important sciency bit. We’ve tried to make it easy to digest so that you can make sure you get it all!
Protein (for growth, maintaining tissues and making hormones)
Get it from: wheat, oats, nuts, seeds, beans and many vegetables.
Eat a good variety of soya products, bread, pasta, nuts, seeds and beans, and you’ll be big and strong.
Calcium (for healthy bones and teeth)
Get it from: almonds, green leafy vegetables, tahini paste, fortified soya milk and calcium set tofu.
Make sure you eat your greens! If you’re not keen try stir frying them with garlic and sesame oil – yum!
Essential Fatty Acids (Omega-3) (for supporting the cardiovascular, reproductive, immune and nervous systems)
Get it from: flax seed (linseed), hemp seed, rape seed (canola oil) and walnuts.
Just one teaspoon of flax seed oil or one tablespoon of crushed flax seeds everyday will supply you with all that you need.
Vitamin B12 (for healthy blood and nerve function)
Get it from: fortified soya milk, cereal, margarine, or yeast extract.
Check the labels as amounts may vary – or take a supplement such as VEG1.
Vitamin D (for absorbing calcium and regulating the formation of bone)
Get it from: sunlight, fortified soya milk, margarines, breakfast cereals.
When you are exposed to the sun, your body can create vitamin D, but in winter especially you will need to get it from your diet, or take a supplement such as VEG1. Beware that vitamin D3 is usually animal-derived! Vitamin D2 is OK.
Selenium (acts as an antioxidant, good for your immune system)
Get it from: a Brazil nut a day, or take a supplement such as VEG1.
Iodine (vital for good function of thyroid gland (in your neck) which produces hormones)
Get it from: seaweeds such as kelp (kombu) or from a supplement like VEG1. Don’t overdo the seaweed – you can have too much of a good thing! You know, it’s not just vegans who need iodine supplements – British meat eaters get it from eating farmed animals whose food has had iodine added to it.
Iron (formation of blood)
Get it from: dried fruits e.g. raisins and apricots, whole grains (including wholemeal bread), nuts, green leafy vegetables, seeds and pulses.
Iron is best absorbed with vitamin C rich foods, e.g. orange juice.
To get the most out of your vegan food eat a varied diet including plenty of brightly coloured fruit and vegetables and avoid highly processed foods, especially hydrogenated fats, and sugary or salty snacks. The Vegan Society's supplement mentioned above, VEG1, is a convenient source of vitamin B12, vitamin D, iodine and selenium at a very low cost: just £4.99 for three months! Get it from our webshop now.
For more in-depth information about nutrition, check out:
Definitely not. Being vegan does not stop at what you eat. It is also about what you drink, what you wear, what you write with, and what you use to make yourself look good. Animal products seem to find their way into the most unlikely places! Don’t worry though, often it is just as easy to find great vegan alternatives to everything you will ever need.
Make-up and toiletries
Many cosmetics and toiletries have been ruthlessly and repeatedly tested on animals who live and die in laboratories. A lot of products on the shelves also contain animal ingredients like beeswax, lanolin (from wool), silk, animals’ fats or slaughterhouse by-products. Blurgh! Who wants to wash their face with that!
You can buy vegan toiletries from supermarkets – a lot of Co-op and Sainsbury’s products are labelled as vegan. Or treat yourself, and support a good, ethical company who shares your views by shopping in shops like Lush! Also most good health food stores sell vegan toiletries. Look out for the Vegan Society Sunflower symbol to find cruelty-free alternatives.
Clothes and shoes
Many shoes, jackets, belts and bags are made from leather, suede or silk. Happily for us - as well as for the animals - there are animal-free options.
Listed below are a few online shops where you can find some brilliant vegan things, whatever your look.
- www.lush.com (bath, hair and skin products)
- www.bboheme.com (shoes and accessories)
- www.crueltyfreeshop.com (make-up and more)
- www.ethicalwares.co.uk (shoes and clothes)
- www.freerangers.co.uk (shoes, bags, wallets, guitar straps, watch straps, sporrans)
- www.honestycosmetics.co.uk (toiletries, makeup and hair products, including hair dyes)
- shop.vegansociety.com (books, sweets, vegan condoms, t-shirts)
- www.veganstore.co.uk (food, toiletries, cosmetics)
- www.vegetarian-shoes.co.uk (vegan shoes)
Check out www.buav.org for more info on animal testing.
So you’ve given it some thought and decided that you’re going to go vegan – good for you! You might be wondering, then, how on earth you’re going to deal with other people when they ask you about it. This section includes lots of advice and handy tips to help you start the ball rolling when it comes to talking to your friends and family about your lifestyle choice.
We ran a number of surveys with young people like you at the end of 2010 and got over 400 responses. These surveys suggested that those thinking about becoming vegan foresaw more problems than actually came true. When you are thinking about changing your habits you might expect people are going to have problems with that, but in actual fact most of these things don’t happen!
Firstly, do your research and know your stuff – our website is full of facts and information which will help give you the confidence to stand up for your decision. If you can hold your own in an intelligent debate, not only will people gain respect for you, but they also might be left with a few things to think about for themselves.
Secondly, don’t lecture! People will only respond negatively to this by either getting angry or switching off. So watch your mouth, and be careful of talking at people. Even if you’re asked to give a speech, it’s really effective to find ways of engaging with people, asking them what things are important to them and helping them to see how veganism could fit with their own beliefs. Listing off facts and figures is wonderful for some people, but for most the eyes will soon glaze over. Try to keep it real!
And thirdly, stay calm. It might feel like an exciting time, but when emotions run too high, tempers begin to flare and that can only lead to bad things. Consider carefully how you wish to present yourself. Keep it light. Don’t go flipping over tables, shouting “MURDERERS!” at everyone and running around the house squirting ketchup everywhere. Seriously, do not try this at home! You want to show the world that you are a healthy, happy, sane vegan – not a lunatic!
Hopefully, people will be supportive of your decision to go vegan, but they might not be, so prepare yourself.
Sometimes parents/carers might feel like you are rejecting them or the way they have raised you. Make it clear that you still respect them but that with all you’ve learnt recently you want to make an effort to do things differently from now on, and you hope they can respect that. It’s important to be as open as possible with your parents/carers. Sit down with them and show them the information presented here, research the topics together on the internet, and try out some recipes together. You'll almost always have to put the effort in yourself if you expect it to be returned. Anything you can do to make their life a little bit easier would be a bonus, so offer to help cook, wash-up, shop or whatever else needs doing around the house.
Your parents/carers’ might say...
“It’s just a phase”
Sometimes it can be difficult for your parents/carers to understand exactly why you want to be vegan. This can be infuriating, but remember to close the door gently. Prove to your parents/carers that you’re serious about wanting to change your lifestyle. This means explaining to them exactly what your reasons are and sticking to your decision. It could take a few weeks before they realise how determined you are. In the meantime keep researching the reasons why you want to be vegan and talking about this with them in a calm, sensible and mature way.
“I’m worried about your health”
Your parents/carers might be worried that you could make yourself really unhealthy. It’s up to you to show them that you can continue to be just as healthy on a vegan diet as on a meat-eating one. Some of our leaflets and information sheets can help. Explaining to your parents/carers that you know what you need nutritionally and showing them how you’re going to get it will reassure them that you’re not going to become ill. You will probably end up knowing more about nutrition than they do! One of the best ways to reassure your folks that being vegan can be really healthy is to get cooking. There are loads of great dishes that you can cook, or help them to cook, and you all get to enjoy a healthy, tasty meal at the end of it.
“I haven’t got time”
It might seem to them like your decision is going to make their lives more difficult. Don’t expect your parents/carers to cook a separate meal for you every night. That’s just not necessary! Learn to adapt each dish as you go. For example, if they are having Spaghetti Bolognese, then use the recipe above to make a tasty veganese sauce to have with the pasta. If they are having sausages, chips and beans, swap in some vegan sausages for your meal – hardly anyone will notice. Remember your parents/carers are probably very busy, so don’t put extra pressure on them. You have to show them that you can help out. Offer to cook vegan meals for the whole family, offer to wash-up, and offer to help with the shopping. Don’t give them any aggravation. Keep talking to them about ways you can make it work for everybody, and see your part of the deal through. Perhaps you could discuss dedicating a space in the freezer to vegan meals, so that you may cook in bulk and reheat in the microwave when necessary.
Or, “It’s going to be too expensive”
So not true! Actually, vegan sausages are often cheaper than meat sausages. Vegan food doesn’t have to be more expensive, but if you want that luxury bar of chocolate or a fancy food item you could consider buying it for yourself – and then let them taste it to see how good it is. It’s also worth remembering that you are growing up and getting older (whether you like it or not!) and you will soon be in a better position to choose for yourself where you spend your money and what activities you get up to in your spare time – be it cooking or anything else.
In a survey we ran it appears that when people did become vegan they found that their parents/carers were more understanding and helpful than they had expected. So, don’t assume that you are necessarily going to have problems – feel the issue out with them and see what they think.
When you are different, you stand out - and other people will notice. Sometimes this can lead to admiration and praise but sometimes it can lead to teasing and name calling. This is usually not serious and you will soon fall out of the spotlight, so try and take it in good humour and don’t rise to the bait. If things do take a turn for the worse and you feel you are being bullied you must immediately speak to your parents/carers and teachers.
It can be difficult to answer all the questions you might get from your friends. In this case, the same as with your parents/carers, have the knowledge and patience to explain yourself carefully. If your friends don’t agree with you, that’s ok, but you will always be giving them something to think about.
We printed this page and this page in an edition of our magazine to help give answers to those tricky questions. If someone is trying to wind you up the best thing you can do is stay calm and give them real answers to their questions ... or just ignore them. You can always show them pages of our leaflets and booklets or suggest that they have a look at our website themselves. One great way to get them used to the idea is to share some vegan treats with them – cupcakes and cookies always go down well!
In our surveys a lot of people said that they found their friends to be very helpful indeed – even to the point of becoming a little bit annoying! Good friends are quite concerned about making sure you have a good time and can join in. If you think this might go over the top then doing as much arranging ahead of time, such as ringing up places beforehand to explain what you’re looking for when you’re eating out, can help to ease some of the pressure.
If there are no vegan options for you to eat then speak to your head teacher, the cook or caterers about it. They might be able to provide some for you. We produced a 'Make your school/college vegan-friendly' information sheet which gives you some great ideas about ways to convince them it’s worth it. If vegan food is really not available even after all your efforts, you can always bring your own lunch in a box - with enough thought and creativity this can be more exciting and nutritious than a canteen meal.
Going on school trips is another potential problem, as you’ll usually be restricted on the places you can eat at in the first place. Again, good communication is necessary. Talk to the trip organisers, explain what you are looking for and ask them to help you arrange that. You might offer to contact the caterers yourself. Remember the resources above for helping restaurants and caterers offer vegan meals.
There may be other times when you are asked to use animal products as ingredients in cooking class or as materials for creative subjects (silk, leather, wool, gelatine, etc.) or expected to wear them for sporting activities (leather pads, gloves) or as part of your school uniform (especially shoes). You should be confident in asking for the option to choose alternatives in these cases. You can almost always find a vegan replacement that can be swapped for the items you don’t want to use.
In some subjects (especially science) you may be asked to do experiments involving live or dead animals. If you object to this InterNICHE (a group separate from the Vegan Society) can help you find alternatives to using animals in research.
When you learn about nutrition there’s a good chance that it will look like meat, milk and eggs are an important part of a balanced diet. As a vegan you’ll have the perfect opportunity to speak up and give the other side of the story. Plenty of people have lived without eating any of these things, and with your new knowledge of healthy vegan diets you’ll be able to explain how and why!
From the results of our surveys it appears that most teachers are not concerned either way whether you are vegan. However, one or two did complain that their teachers had been particularly obstructive. If this happens you’ll have to use some of the same tactics as with your folks – careful explanation and insistence. If a teacher still won’t help you out you can speak to your Head of Department, Head of Year, or one of the Leadership Team.
We produced this handy one page document that explains what vegans will and won’t do, which can be useful to remind people of your requirements. This notification sheet can be completed and then displayed somewhere staff will see it. If you really struggle then please do get in touch with us – we may be able to talk to the school on your behalf. We cannot work as an enforcement agency but we are able to offer advice and support and make constructive suggestions.
There are roughly 150,000 vegans in the UK. The Vegan Society maintains a list of Local Contacts, many of these are leaders of Local Vegan Groups – there may well be one in your area. Make contact with them, find out if they have any young members, and maybe go along to one of their meetings. Always speak to your parents/carers first before you go ahead with this, and never agree to meet someone for the first time on your own. Most vegan groups will be happy to welcome interested non-vegans, so you could invite your parents/carers to come with you – this might help them to see that vegans are normal people and put to rest some of their fears! If you’re not based in the UK or Éire we have an International Coordinator who may be able to help you, so contact us at the office to put you in touch.
We also run a Vegan Pledge scheme, where you can sign up to be vegan for a month (or less - or more!) and get all the help you need, including being hooked up with an experienced vegan mentor. We have some young mentors who will be able to guide you through some of the obstacles and pitfalls, and will know where you are coming from. Many people say that this really helps them to get through the first few weeks.
We also have Facebook and MySpace pages where lots of vegans meet up online.
In our surveys the majority of current vegans didn’t have many vegan friends. But they didn’t let that stop them doing something they believed in!
You might be thinking whether one person going vegan can really have that much of an effect. Well too right it can! For every person you appear as a positive role model to, that’s one more person who will look into this whole vegan thing for themselves. You never know, they might also decide to make the change.
In our surveys people who became vegan did report that those closest to them were more likely to change their attitudes and eating habits more than they had expected. So don’t think that you’ll have no effect – people will be paying attention, and if you are happy and healthy they will be intrigued.
There are a number of ways that you can multiply the effect you have. If you’re confident enough and feel like getting active, a great idea would be to form a vegan related group at school or college. Decide together on a number of objectives and get working on organising some events. If you have a school newspaper or magazine then you could advertise your new group there, and then write articles for them to print, too. We have another information sheet that may be of use ‘How to start a vegan group’.
Once there are a few of you, you will become a force to be reckoned with! For example, encouraging the school to offer vegan meals at lunch times will help more students to get access to vegan meals and start off discussions all over the place. There are lots of other ideas for getting active here.
You could become a school representative and put up a display in your library; organise a vegan week with all sorts of vegan information and food samples; maybe give a presentation or two. Request our CD-ROM for schools or a batch of our leaflets to help educate your classmates. Again, samples of vegan foods can sweeten the deal.
If you need any advice or support, contact the Education Officer and we’ll do all we can to help. You can invite us along to deliver lessons for a whole range of subjects and we can do cookery demonstrations and taste testings too – you can find more details about that along with teaching materials on our Education Pages.
So there you have it – when it's all down in black and white it suddenly seems that the question shouldn’t actually be 'why vegan?' but instead 'why NOT vegan?’.
Go for it!
In our surveys many people reported a lot of good feelings. We asked them ‘What’s the best thing about being vegan?” Here are some top answers:
“The feeling that I know that I am doing something to help the environment, animals, and showing others that it is possible to live a vegan lifestyle without any health problems!”
“I might never be able to do a lot for all the animals that I love but I certainly can make small choices which might make a difference.”
“Guilt free eating! No-one suffered to feed me.”
“Knowing that I'm not supporting an industry I disagree with, feeling healthier as a whole and loving myself more.”
“Doing what I feel is right as opposed to what is merely easy to do by others' expectations.”
“I want a sense of self-accomplishment. For me, becoming a vegan is about self-improvement, and making a difference first through myself.”
“I am truly taking an ethical leap forward”
“It's a journey! Trying new things, and cooking new things. Being vegan has brought me to a lot of new open doors. It's great fun!”
“Feeling so much more aware of my surroundings and society than before. Going vegan I was faced with huge amounts of doubt from others, which made me realise how minorities must feel everyday, having their beliefs or backgrounds questioned. While mine was chosen and therefore more reasonable to question, I have more compassion with others now because I know what it's like to be questioned for something, often because of pure ignorance. This has taught me a lot, and thanks to being exposed to these sides in other people, I am now more empathetic to others (and to animals, which I wasn't at first as they weren’t my main reason for veganism)”
“Every day when you eat your vegan food you feel like you make a statement, and gives people something to think about. I think that's great.”
“I love to cook vegan meals and experiment with different vegetables, spices and herbs. I'm still learning about and eating vegetables I never heard of! I also like the philosophy behind animal cruelty. It's horrible and unjust that animals don't get a voice to say, "No! I don't want to be eaten!” When ever I see meat, it’s like seeing my puppy instead of chicken.”
Written with the help of Anna Thorley.