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Focal point
March 24, 2017
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Being a teenager is tough. The struggle to fit in, feel comfortable in a morphing body, and cope with seesawing emotions is something that we can all relate to. And for vegan teenagers, who are sticking their necks above an additional parapet, surely the world must be a lonely place?

But as rates of veganism climb upwards, it’s young people that are leading the way. In the decade since 2006, there was a 350 per cent spike in the number of people who identified as vegan. And almost half of vegans are aged between 15 to 34. Meanwhile, food-friendly platforms like Instagram and fellow devotees in celebrities from Ariana Grande to Beyonce make committing to a plant-based diet less niche.

And the social network the Teen Vegan Network (Teen VGN) gives young people who are vegan and aged between 12 and 19-years-old a place to belong. The website features forums, recipes, product reviews and opportunities for volunteering. It currently has 1,553 active members, and a reach of around 35,000 social media users, with 28,000 Twitter followers, over 3,000 likes on Facebook, and over 2,500 followers on Instagram. The founders say the group has seen a steady growth in the last four years as veganism has gone mainstream.

“We realised that there was so many great campaigning groups that were directed at adults and none for young people,” Laura Edwards, 26, who co-founded the organisation in 2013 tells The Independent. She and fellow vegan friend and former animal rights charity worker Kylie Fackrell, 29, created Teen VGN to plug a gap for children who didn’t fit in with their peers.

Since then, the group has started sell-out summer camps for members can aged between 11 and 17-years-old.

“I wasn’t vegan when I was a teenager, but since starting TeenVGN we have noticed how many young people talk about being the only vegan at their school, and parents who are concerned that their children feel left out,” says Edwards.

She adds: “Our TeenVGN summer camp started in 2015 with space for 32 young people and we sold out within 34 hours. Our second camp we had to increase to 72 spaces due to demand and we sold out months before camp.”

At 18, Asher Gilbert is one of the oldest members of the group. “At first, I found being a vegan teenager quite lonely,” Gilbert, from St Albans in Hertfordshire, tells The Independent. “But at camp I met so many other vegan teenagers who I am still in touch with.”

Others have had a less isolating experience - including 12-year-old Ella from Horsham in East Sussex. A vegetarian since she was seven, she has lead a plant-based lifestyle for a year-and-a-half after her mum was inspired by a close friend. When she took the plunge, she encouraged her best friends to do the same. Some are now also vegan, while others are dabbling with vegetarianism. “I found out that dairy and eggs harmed farm animals just as much as meat, I wanted to follow my mum’s lead and stop contributing towards the cruelty,” she says.

So, is turning vegan as a pre-teen tough?

“The only difficulty I have is fitting into school and getting people to take my lifestyle seriously,” she says. “Some girls at my school like to poke fun and think that my friends and I who are also vegan are ‘extreme’.

“We have learnt to not let it get us down and carry on saving animals lives and try to be excellent animal activists! I have found that it is more effective to be mindful of others who haven’t yet made the connection with their food and not to be cross with them,” she adds.

The Teen VGN, she suggests, has helped her avoid feeling like an outcast.

“At the Teen VGN Summer Camp I met so many amazing friends. We all stay in touch and I know I can chat to them about anything that may be troubling me, they are so special to me as I feel we see the world through the same eyes.”

Maia Fanson, a 16-year-old from Bristol, says that her parents were a little worried that she would miss out from staving off meat and dairy.

That hasn’t been the case, she says. “I actually think that since becoming vegan I’ve spent more time outside with my mates then I did before,” she explains. “In my language course we did a trip to France, at first I thought I shouldn’t go but I went and when we went to restaurants I just explained to them what I didn’t eat, which was hard because I’m not too great at french, and they helped me find the food I could have.”

And all of the teens agree that, for now, veganism is a lifestyle they will stick to.

“I definitely think I will be vegan forever,” says Asher.

The Independent

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