To those who meet a teenaged vegan,
Please, don't make assumptions about their diets, their lifestyles, or their identities. Please, don't treat them like they are young children, and please, don't roll your eyes.
I recently turned twenty-nine, so you may wonder why I feel like it's my place to write this. And you do have a point, of course. Times change, and with them, change the challenges that vegans face in predominately non-vegan societies.
However, the notion, or perhaps we could say even the social construct, of the rebellious, impulsive teenager is still going strong. This carries implications for young vegans who may struggle to get taken seriously, a factor which can be hard to overcome, especially without support.
Furthermore, remember that old cliché about sticks and stones breaking bones, but words not being able to wound? Well, to put it bluntly, that's not true. Hurtful comments, omission of supportive words, and non-physical actions, can all have great impacts, that stay with a young person far into the future. Personally, I can look back and feel proud at having overcome objections to my fifteen-year-old self's new veganism, but I still feel sick at the thought of some of the tricks I nearly fell for, and still occasionally wonder if any of my new dining companions are judging me, the way I was judged back then.
So please, don't sow seeds of doubt into the minds of teenaged vegans. If you cannot encourage or actively support their choice, please let it go, rather than loudly object. Let them retain, or build, their confidence in their values and convictions.
Yes, it's likely that some of your assumptions will be true of some vegans of any age, but please try not to generalise.
Please don't tell young vegans that their lifestyle is just a phase.
Please don't tell them that they are ruining their life.
Please don't roll your eyes, or make snide comments.
Please don't assume they are in need of psychological help.
Please don't 'armchair-diagnose' an eating disorder.
Please don't try and trick them into eating non-vegan foods.
Please don't accuse them of hypocrisy if their pleather shoes look like leather, or if they are still wearing out their last pair of wool socks.
Instead, please listen to them, support them, and keep an open mind.
I know that many of you already reject age discrimination, and offer support and respect to teenaged vegans. For this, there are not enough words with which I can thank you. If that does not describe you, and you are still reading, thank you for doing so, and I hope that you will consider these words when you spend time with the young vegans in your life.
Photo: Author's Own