Vegans - More Girls And Women Take Up Vegan Banner

More Girls and Women Take Up Vegan Banner
Baltimore Sun, The (KRT) eNews from Saturday, March 29, 2008

Get a look at the new face of veganism.

The mousy hippie chick who couldn't imagine eating a brown-eyed baby cow any more than she could imagine eating the family pet has grown up.

She's a sexy, sassy babe with a smart-aleck attitude about the food choices you are making.

Fashion has met food, and the work of a couple of escapees from the world of modeling has put veganism on the runway, creating a perceptible bump in the fastest-growing food trend among girls and young women.

Credit for the new look of veganism goes to Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin, authors of Skinny Bitch, "a no-nonsense, tough-love guide for savvy girls who want to stop eating crap and start looking fabulous," and a new companion cookbook, Skinny Bitch in the Kitch.

The cookbook extends the sensational hold veganism -- a fringe discipline even on its best day -- suddenly has on the popular imagination.

"I think they are fabulous," said Casey Hall, 23, of Baltimore, who stopped eating meat when she was 11 and became a vegan at 18. "I like their cursing and their up-front attitude."

Freedman and Barnouin, whose books have sold more than 850,000 copies, use a combination of girl power and gross-out stories from the barnyard, and it is an approach that resonates in the tender hearts of young girls, who represent the fastest-growing segment of the vegetarian population.

Roughly 1.4 million American children younger than 18 -- and 11 percent of girls between 13 and 17 -- identify themselves as vegetarians or vegans, according to the American Dietetic Association. That compares to just 7 percent of the adult population.

Not so long ago, you could scratch a vegan and find an anti-establishment punk rocker -- angry and in your face.

Freedman and Barnouin make their case much differently: If you eat better, you will look better.

"Now the Skinny Bitches appeal to all these girls who wish they lived in L.A. and wore Juicy Couture pants," said Hall, who teaches yoga and tends bar.

For the true believer, giving up meat, fish and dairy is the right thing to do for the other living things.

Veganism eschews not only the flesh of living things, but the eggs, milk and honey they produce.

Obscure uses of animal byproducts in such processes as bleaching flour and making wine or beer put those things off-limits, too. Also shunned is the wearing of wool, silk, fur, bone, coral, pearls or leather.

True vegans don't go to zoos, circuses or aquariums.

Helen Cordes, editor of the bimonthly newsletter Daughters, said that the young girls are motivated to become vegan or vegetarian equally by a concern for animals and a desire to eat healthfully -- two trends much in the public awareness.

"Certainly girls are thinking about moral and ethical issues and what is fair," said Cordes. "But it also is about control. The idea that you know who you are and you are in control of things can be very seductive, especially for girls in the 'tween' years who are trying to control that feeling of powerlessness."

Gabby Levey, a 14-year-old from Pikesville, said she took the step from vegetarian to vegan about five months ago, and her reasons illustrate how well informed young girls can be about the issues that surround food.

"I didn't want to support any sort of animal cruelty," she said. "I realized that meat is so unhealthy and a leading cause of heart disease. And I realized that all this is terrible for the environment, in terms of pollution and global warming."

Levey sometimes gets chicken nuggets waved at her in her school cafeteria, but she shrugs it off.

Her mother is a vegan and her father is vegetarian, but this can be a tough road for some parents, who worry about the nutritional needs of a growing child.

"I remember we were on the Eastern Shore, driving behind a truck that was carrying chickens in cages," said Carolyn Curcio of Northwest Washington, whose daughter gave up beef and pork in the second grade because she felt bad for the animals.

"We had insisted that Cara continue to eat chicken and fish for health reasons," said Curcio. "But when she saw the truck, she said there was no way she was eating chicken again for the rest of her life.

"Having seen what she saw, we knew there was no way we were going to change her mind," she said of her daughter, a vegan since 16 and a freshman at .

The Internet and organic food store chains, as well as colleges and universities, have made it easier to keep the vegan faith.

And there are plenty of vegan meat and dairy substitutes -- crafted of soy or wheat or some other product to look like the real thing. Skinny Bitch in the Kitch has recipes for Philly cheese steaks, Fettuccine Alfredo and sloppy Joes.

Erin Marcus, 25, who gave up meat in the fifth grade and became a vegan at 20, said Baltimore is a wonderful town in which to be a vegan.

"There are so many choices," said Marcus, who describes herself as an animal-rights activist and "a huge vegan baker."

The Sun recently asked Marcus and two other young women to dinner at the Yabba Pot, a popular vegan restaurant in Baltimore, to talk about their vegan food choices.

All three told of similar journeys -- realizing at a young age where all that meat came from; tentative but supportive parents; some harassment from schoolmates while growing up; an unwillingness to get in somebody else's face about what they eat; and the freedom and general ease with which they have been able to maintain a vegan diet as young adults.

Steffany Moonaz, a graduate student at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and eight months pregnant, chose sauteed greens, barbecued tofu and an Indian-flavored vegetable dish for dinner, though there was "beef" stir-fry and "chicken" pasta salad, too.

For her, fake meat and cheese seem like a bit of a dodge.

"I prefer things that feel like they come out of the ground," said Moonaz, whose husband converted to veganism after their first date. "These things are created in some kind of process, and I don't know what that process is."

"I actually like fake meat more than I ever liked real meat," soft-spoken Marcus said with a laugh. Like so many vegans, she found it tough to give up pizza.

"But I found a recipe for focaccia, hummus and vegetable 'pizza' and it was amazing," she said.

Jillian Parry Fry, who told her mother the day before Thanksgiving that she had decided to be a vegan, is a Ph.D. candidate at Hopkins whose husband ends up doing much of the cooking while she studies.

"He's an omnivore," she said, the way someone once might have said, "He's a Taurus." Or "He's a runner."

When they go out to eat, they choose a restaurant that has vegan options for Jillian.

"But when I cook for us," said Roderick Fry, who showed up at the end of the dinner, "I cook vegan."

Author: Susan Reimer, The Baltimore Sun

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