by Victoria Paal and Patrick Kwan
From The Animals' Agenda -- For our final installment
dedicated to "2000: Year of the Humane Child," we wanted to hear
directly from young people about how they became activists and the
challenges they face in their daily lives. Here, two teenagers describe
their dealings with parents, peers, school, and others.
by Victoria Paal
It was a bad day for a vegan in the school cafeteria.
The lunch options included egg noodles, meatballs, or soggy peas soaking
in lukewarm water. I moved to the salad bar but the dressings had cheese
or honey in them. I settled for some lettuce.
At my high school I am aware of two other vegans, both
in the senior class with me. I have been vegan for about three years.
When I first decided to go vegetarian five years ago, I knew very little
about it; something just seemed wrong about eating an animal. After all,
I would never eat my dog. Two years later, after reading about veganism
on web sites, I decided it was a good option for me. At that point, I
was not very concerned with my health or the environment; I simply felt
that it was wrong that dairy cows and hens were killed prematurely and
kept on factory farms.
I will never forget the day I told my parents. "Vegan?
What's that?" my mom asked. After explaining it, she rolled her eyes. My
parents' worst nightmare was to have a liberal daughter. She continued,
"It will be too hard. You won't get enough nutrients. It's not a good
idea." My dad sat across the table, laughing, and swallowed a mouthful
Even after discussing the topic, my parents remained
adamant that it would be a bad idea. My mother was panicking that I
would not be getting three glasses of milk a day. I explained that there
were other sources of vitamins and minerals, and my parents eventually
realized that this was a decision from which I was not going to back
Now, more than three years later, my mom still likes to
think it's a typical adolescent phase. When I say I'm not going to eat
something because it has whey in it, I know to expect her to roll her
eyes. My father still forgets occasionally and will offer me fish at
dinner. At the same time, however, they seem to have grown used to my
lifestyle. My mom gets excited when she finds a new vegan ice cream, and
my father loves trying to find good vegan food at restaurants. They are
even beginning to learn what vegan and non-vegan ingredients are.
I, too, have learned a lot over time. By reading such
books as Diet for a New America, I better understand the implications of
a meat-based society on human health and the environment. I have also
become more socially active and aware. Through working with animal
rights groups like Compassion Over Killing, I have been given the
opportunity to participate in protests and rallies. I was also fortunate
enough to find a great part-time job at a vegan store near my home.
My school is gradually becoming aware of students'
lifestyle choices. When it came time for the rat dissection in biology
class, students were offered the alternative of participating in a
computer-based interactive virtual dissection of the human body.
However, when I took up this offer I was not spared from several
teachers' disapproving looks and lectures on how I would learn more by
Each day is a bit of a battle for a high school vegan.
While the familial arguments and occasional lettuce lunches can get
aggravating, veganism is a choice that pays off in the end. I am able to
feel better about myself as a person, knowing that I am doing a small
part to protect the animals.
Victoria Paal, 17, is a high school senior in Bethesda,
Growing Into It
by Patrick Kwan
When I was in fifth grade, I was sentenced to spend a
week in the back of the classroom for talking too much. I was alone and
bored with nothing but dozens of magazines stuffed on racks. What caught
my eye were the ones from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
Before I knew it, my eyes were filled with tears. Though
more than nine years have passed, the picture of the "Gillette rabbit"
still haunts me. I became a vegetarian shortly after, despite vehement
protest from my parents (who are chefs). My first few weeks were
horrible. My parents purposely prepared an all-flesh meal one day -- I
simply went to bed hungry. My sisters were the only ones who were
remotely supportive; after months had passed, my parents started buying
into a theory proposed by a family
friend that I would "grow out of it." Four years ago I took another step
to help animals by becoming vegan, but they still believe I will one day
grow out of it.
I remember crying and feeling horrible after kids flung
flesh in my face or made fun of me for caring about animals. I also
remember calling PETA when I'd returned home from these ordeals.
Everyone at PETA was extremely helpful, especially Bobbi in the
education department. Someone sent me a "Meat Stinks" sticker after she
heard about what kids were doing to me. I proudly brought the sticker to
school and kids started shutting up. I still have the sticker.
PETA sent me lots of literature, including a copy of
Animal Liberation, which molded my concerns into beliefs and first
pointed out to me the commonality of the oppression of animals and other
disenfranchised groups. For years, I thought all the animal rights
activists in the world were in Washington, D.C., because I only knew the
folks at PETA. When I was 12, my older sister got involved in organizing
with the National Mobilization Against Sweat Shops. I tagged along with
my sister and started becoming an activist. It wasn't until I was 14
that I found out that there were actually animal rights activists in New
York. I became an organizer for the Coalition to Abolish the Fur Trade
when I was 15, then progressed to organizing with the Animal Defense
League of New York City, which I do to this day.
In the last few years, I've become extremely concerned
that the animal rights movement is failing its young activists. As
opposed to other movements, where there are specific organizations that
concentrate on educating, supporting, and training youth, the animal
rights movement does little in this area. Even when activists decide to
reach out to youth, they focus exclusively on education rather than
education plus mobilization. Young activists are left to seek for
themselves the knowledge and skills necessary for informing their peers
and community, and suffer from unnecessary bruises in their attempts to
be active for the animals. A few manage to learn much from their
struggles, but many simply get discouraged from participating in any
level of activism or organizing. There needs to be a change of
attitude. The youth of today should not only be viewed as the leaders of
tomorrow, but also as the leaders of today. It is up to the animal
rights movement to realize the promise that young activists hold for the
Patrick Kwan, 19, is currently majoring in Political
Science and Energy & Environmental Policy Studies at Hunter College in
New York. He is also a recipient of the Bill Rosenberg Award presented
by the Farm Animal Reform Movement for outstanding youth activism.
“Reprinted with permission from The Animals’ Agenda,
P.O. Box 25881,
Baltimore, MD 21224; (410) 675-4566;
Go on to Spring
Return to 14 March 2001 Issue
Return to Newsletters
** Fair Use Notice**
This document may contain copyrighted material, use of which has not been
specifically authorized by the copyright owners. I believe that this
not-for-profit, educational use on the Web constitutes a fair use of the
copyrighted material (as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright
Law). If you wish to use this copyrighted material for purposes of your
own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright