It might not be as frightening as Teen Vampire or Teen Wolf, but Teen Vegan can still wreak havoc in the family. Many beliefs can spur a teenager to make the decision to go strictly vegan. There’s concern for animal rights, of course, plus passion for healthy eating, perhaps stoked by the food porn of fruits and vegetables displayed in farmers’ markets and in the holiest of grocery shrines, Whole Foods. But the results in the kitchen are the same.
At first you might not notice much except that there are more, a lot more, vegetables in the refrigerator. If you had trouble getting the kid to eat greens when she was younger, you might rejoice. But soon the signs become unmistakable and overwhelming…you have gone from a family that eats a variety of healthy foods and your share of unhealthy snacks to one in which a member has crossed over to the other side: not just vegetarianism, but vegetarianism minus even milk or cheese or eggs.
Though it can be incredibly healthy for Teen Vegan, consider what it’s like for the non-vegan family members:
- You can’t open the fridge without being assaulted by an avalanche of kale.
- You’re afraid to take an apple from the fruit bowl or a head of romaine for a salad; these items are consumed in alarming quantity by Teen Vegan every day and she will notice they are missing.
- “Is that my food way in the back?” you’ll hear yourself mumbling frequently in front of the open refrigerator door. Is it worth taking 14 things out to get to your little yogurt or leftover chicken, lost amid the vegetable palace, often not to be seen again until it’s a wilting, moldy mess? Sadly, often the answer is no. So while Teen Vegan holds tight to her impeccable eating regimen, the rest of the family may starve.
- There are nine kinds of nondairy milk in my house. Nine.
- Your Teen Vegan may, like mine, prepare her own food, but is she going to step up to the extra work generated by her vegan meals, which make use of every cutting board, colander, and knife in the house? When strands of sprouts, seeds from green peppers, mushroom stems, and lettuce leaves form a tangled nest next to the sink?
- The cost of feeding Teen Vegan is, in a word, staggering.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m much happier seeing my daughter eat mile-high plates of beets/broccoli/figs/chickpeas/tofu/Swiss chard than the Ring Dings and Oreos I favored at her age. But I’m not entirely convinced of the health benefits of such a regimen, especially for someone whose brain and body are still growing.
Consider that it’s impossible for a vegan diet to fill a human’s need for Vitamin B12. And that even the hardiest vegan who “feels fine” may hear bad news after certain blood tests are run. White blood cells may be in short supply. Red blood cells may appear misshapen. If these abnormalities are present, serious neurological deficits can develop unless a vegan either adds some animal products to the diet or takes the over-the-counter supplement spirulina.
In addition, if an intense interest in healthy eating goes too far, it can become an eating disorder. Not anorexia or bulimia but orthorexia, which can have the same devastating effects as its better-known cousins. Dr. Steven Bratman, author of Health Food Junkies and a recovering orthorexic himself, identified this disorder not to discourage people from healthy food but to help those whose way of eating interferes with daily activities and connections with others. People whose devotion to their eating habits has made them socially isolated or given them a sense of virtuous superiority, whose sense of identity, self-esteem, and especially control comes nearly entirely from the way they have chosen to eat—which is an addiction at that point, taking up hours out of their day—have gone beyond healthy eating choices to obsession.
Of course, with a teenage girl the danger is also that veganism can be a handy disguise for staying ultra-thin and deflecting people’s fears about her health. Three magic words tend to halt any further prying: “I’m a vegan.”
I just dropped my Teen Vegan off for her first year of college, a place that can easily accommodate the needs of vegetarians and vegans. There she can consume quinoa and steamed veggies to her heart’s content, languish among vats of lentils and hummus. My kitchen is mine again, and my grocery bills have plummeted. If she was using a strict vegan diet as a coping mechanism for the pressures and anxiety of high school, maybe I will see a change in her eating habits. If not, it might be time to invest in a couple more refrigerators and get a second job to support Teen Vegan until she’s in the workforce. I wonder whether they’re hiring over at Whole Foods…