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Interview With A Teenage Vegetarian
Emily Freer is a formerly home educated teenager whose family lives in Surrey, British Columbia. She describes her vegetarian lifestyle.

NL: How long have you been a vegetarian?

Emily: I am 16 years old now. I have been a vegetarian for about four years.

NL: Why did you decide to become a vegetarian?

Emily: I wasn't feeling very healthy. I was feeling dizzy at times, and lethargic, and had low energy. I had done some reading and come to the conclusion that a vegetarian diet was healthier all around. I had also read Frances Moore Lappé's book, Diet for a Small Planet, and shared her concerns about our environment and the effect the North American diet has on issues like agriculture and world hunger.

NL: How did you make the change?

Emily: I believe I already had a reasonably good diet. We ate some meat, but not a lot. I immediately cut out red meat, chicken and pork. I just didn't take any of the meat at the dinner table but ate the rest of the meal. For lunch I made cheese sandwiches or similar.

NL: How long did you continue like this?

Emily: I only did this for a couple of weeks. My mother advised me that I should be eating protein, since I was growing and she felt I was not getting enough with this diet.

I then started eating fish. The rest of my family did not eat fish, so it was not prepared for family meals. My mother would buy a small piece of fish for me and I would cook it in our microwave. Shortly after that I started experimenting with tofu. I didn't really know how to cook at this time, so I would cut the tofu in slabs, put some barbeque sauce on it and cook it in the microwave for a few minutes.

NL: Once you had gone vegetarian, did you miss meat?

Emily: I never felt deprived. The first few weeks, I was hungry at times because I was just eliminating the meat and not substituting anything else. But once I started experimenting with alternatives, I enjoyed the changes I was making to my diet.

NL: Were your parents supportive of you becoming a vegetarian?

Emily: My mother was willing to support my vegetarianism as long as she felt I was getting the appropriate nutrients. She was always willing to buy the things I asked her to as I gradually expanded my diet. My father and brothers made fun of my fish eating stage, complaining of the smell and comparing me to a seal with accompanying seal barks. I don't think my parents thought I would stick with being a vegetarian for very long.

NL: Do you still eat fish?

Emily: I ate fish for a few months and then stopped one day. I never really cared for fish and always intended to become a full vegetarian. The fish was just a stop-gap.

NL: How did your diet evolve over the next couple of years?

Emily: I started to take out books from the library, learning more about vegetarianism and vegetarian cooking. I had started out as a vegetarian only in that I didn't eat meat. I didn't really know much about the substitutes for meats, combining of proteins and cooking of vegetarian dishes. I expanded my diet to include beans, grains, brown rice and vegetables that I had never even heard of, let alone tried.

I made the decision to become an ovo-lacto vegetarian. I may become a vegan in the future, although this is not something I feel that strongly about.

NL: Describe yourself as a vegetarian today.

Emily: I always cook for myself now, although I eat some things that the rest of the family eats, like occasional french fries or meatless spaghetti. I think I have become quite a good vegetarian cook. I soak and cook my own beans, bake my own bread and can make many dishes from soufflés to risottos.

I have become more knowledgeable about food and nutrition generally. I know I am eating a well-balanced and nutritional diet. I enjoy cooking. I like knowing I am eating in a more ecologically responsible way. I am trying to limit my consumption of refined and processed foods but I don't consider myself obsessive about it. I really like chocolate.

NL: Do you feel you have influenced the rest of your family?

Emily: The rest of the family still eats meat but they have cut down on the amount. I think I have raised my parents' consciousness about improving their diet and I think they eat more vegetables now. My younger sisters like to sample my food.

My two 14-year-old brothers seem unaffected and in fact, like to wave meat under my nose and call me a rabbit. Boys are so immature, though.

NL: Are there any difficulties with being a vegetarian?

Emily: Eating at relatives' or friends' houses can be awkward if they are not aware of my diet. And there is a definite shortage of vegetarian selections in restaurants, although this has improved. The menus have an excess of veggie burgers.

This article was published in 1996.

 

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