This summer, Compassion Over Killing is joined by two dedicated Outreach Interns in DC, Soleil and Erika. Both are vegans and inspiring animal rights activists who went vegetarian at a young age. Check out this interview, in which they share their stories of growing up veg!
What made you go vegetarian as a child?
E: I grew up with a fishing boat and spent the night on it with my family every weekend. Unfortunately, my parents went fishing almost every time we went. I remember watching them reel in a clearly struggling fish and throw her in a cooler like her suffering didn’t matter. When we got back to the dock, I watched them filet the same fish who was swimming freely just hours earlier. I went back to kindergarten the next day and drew a picture of me crying as my dad cut open the fish and I wrote, “why did my dad take the blood out of the fish to eat it?” That was when I stopped eating fish. Later, when I was 7, I realized that animals suffered for all meat to be made, and so I went veg.
S: When I was little, one night my family was eating chicken for dinner. All of a sudden I felt immensely guilty and couldn’t get the image of an injured bird out of my mind. I grew up with half of my family being omnivores but I knew my dad had been a vegetarian since he got out of college. Realizing that I just couldn’t eat meat without feeling sad, I went vegetarian when I was about eight years old.
What Challenges did you face?
E: I was lucky enough to not have many challenges that some veg kids experience growing up. Nobody made fun of me and I never felt weird or different, even though I didn’t know any other people who were veg. I felt the same as everyone else. However, emotionally I have had a lot of other challenges. Growing up in a household of meat eaters was very hard for me. I don’t just see food when I see meat, I see the animal who screamed in pain and didn’t want to die. I see flesh of an innocent being. I struggled a lot and still struggle with dealing with my emotions when I see others eating animals.
S: I used to feel isolated as a vegetarian growing up around other non-veg kids. A lot of younger kids would criticize the food that my mom packed for me for school or camp. As a kid I was pretty sensitive to what others would say and what they thought of me. Once, I came home and made chicken nuggets because I wanted to see if I could force myself to eat meat again. I remember crying because I couldn’t bring myself to eat them but I was still afraid of other people’s opinions.
How did your family react to you going vegan?
E: My parents are the type that let their kids make their own decisions. They let me pick out all my clothes, activities, and what I ate. When I told them I didn’t want to eat animals anymore, they were very supportive. That helped make the transition easy and I am very grateful to have such supportive parents.
S: My family was a bit confused by my decision at first. My mom was initially hesitant towards me being vegan because that meant that we’d have to cook more dishes for family meals. However, my family is now more open-minded about me being a vegan, especially because they know now that there are so many delicious and easy-to-make vegan recipes out there.
What are your favorite vegan foods to eat?
E: I try to eat mainly raw vegan foods because it gives me the most energy and makes me feel like my best self, so I eat mainly fruits and veggies. However, I am a sucker for vegan mac and cheese, pizza, and ice cream, and will never turn those down. A vegan diet does not have to be restrictive at all; a vegan can eat and enjoy everything that an omnivore can eat, just without causing any suffering to animals.
S: I eat pasta (I love Amy’s mac & cheese), beans and rice with veggies, tofu with almost every meal, avocados, pho… I basically eat everything that does not include animal products. Eating as a vegan in Northern Virginia has been much easier than expected. There are numerous vegan restaurants and a variety of ethnic supermarkets in NoVA so I never feel like I’m missing out on anything as a vegan.
What would you tell other kids who are or want to be vegan?
E: If you ever feel alone, just remember that there is a whole community of vegans just like you out there, and that community is constantly growing. Maybe someday soon, your friends will be inspired by what you’re doing and choose vegan foods, too. You are strong and kind and compassionate, which is so rare and special and the animals and the planet are eternally grateful for you.
S: Always stand up for what you believe in even if those beliefs may sometimes seem “different.” Remember that we all share this planet and it is our responsibility to make this place a better world for all beings, no matter how big or small.
Want to join Soleil and Erika in choosing compassionate vegan foods? It’s always a good time to start your veg journey! Visit TryVeg.com for free recipes, tips, and so much more.
Soleil will be a sophomore at William & Mary next year. She plans on majoring in Sociology and minoring in Environmental Science & Policy. In college she participates in FASA (the Filipino American Student Association), engages in community service with Alpha Phi Omega, and designs layouts for a literary-art magazine called Gate. In her free time, she enjoys playing the ukulele and dancing.
Erika is an incoming freshman at Northern Virginia Community College. She wants to continue to do farm animal rights advocacy after she graduates and plans to study communications in college. She was previously a volunteer at Animal Rights Foundation of Florida where she leafletted and tabled for veganism and attended lots of protests including SeaWorld, animal circuses and pet stores. She loves ballet, yoga and hanging out with doggies!
Stuart McDonald is a Creative Writer at Compassion Over Killing (COK), a national non-profit animal protection organization based in Washington, DC. She is passionate about making an ethical lifestyle easy and accessible for all and collaborating across social movements to create a kinder world. She writes about everything vegan: from plant-based eating to activism to legislation. Read her work on TryVeg.com and COK.net.