VeganMania hits the teenage diet to offer more eating choices

A list of America’s favorite comfort foods includes the following: pizza, mac n’ cheese, chocolate, ice cream, chips and hamburgers. Each contains some strain of animal product and yet, there are alternatives that do not.

“In America, we have the resources to eat anything,” senior Justin Gold said. “That means that our culture concerning food can be anything you want it to be, vegan or not.”

In the age of conscious consumerism, veganism has expanded exponentially with the range of options available for those choosing this diet growing at the same rate. Vegan mac n’ cheese is doled out in Whole Foods across the country with a familiar cheesy flavor and no dairy. Meatless hamburgers grace the frozen aisles of Trader Joe’s in perfect harmony with carnivorous meals. It is the era of the American vegan and VeganMania is hitting Chicago on Sept. 23rd.

This event is, according to the site, “a celebration of the dynamic vegan community in Chicago”, with a food court full of over 20 different vegan vendors and showcases with vegan artists and doctors. But the mass availability of vegan products has not always been the case, especially new products tailored to mimic the flavors of foods full of animal products.

“Making a food vegan might change the traditional preparation, it can add another layer to the dish,” foods teacher Ronna Pflanz said. “Change is how the culinary world operates.”

With the rise of vegan social media stars like Kalel Cullen and Onessa O’Neil dominating spheres of influence like Youtube and Instagram and several independent films promoting ethical eating circulating the web like Earthlings and Forks Over Knives, veganism has gathered more attention as of late. This means that companies were told that people want to eat vegan and seek to supply that demand.

“Now you can go to Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s if you want something,” Pflanz said. “When I was in high school, there was never this much availability for vegan products out there.”

This demand may be coming primarily from young people, who are conventionally characterized as having an unhealthy, decidedly non-vegan diet. While the plant-based conventions of a vegan diet might provide benefits for growth and energy, both pieces that teenagers may crave. Though health problems like obesity may be helped by a vegan diet, other factos may not allow the diet to work for everyone.

I look around the lunch room and I see kids eating pizza and all sorts of junk food and not really caring about what they are putting into their body,” junior Ellie Allan said. “They really just don’t care about what’s happening on the inside, they just see the outside.”

For student athletes who play sports that require carb-loading and weight gain, a vegan diet might require them to consume far more to get the same effects that meat and dairy products can provide immediately.

“As an athlete, I believe that putting the right things in my body helps me perform at my top level,” Gold said. “Looking at professional players and seeing what they eat, which is generally meat, sets an example as to what we should do too.”

Other students who may seek to try the diet may be turned off by the financial expense of veganism, especially when products to edge cravings that might not fully replace a product’s flavor. Though processed vegan foods might be more expensive compared to non-vegan, the trade-off might be health concerns or the value of self-sustenance.

“Anyone can be vegan but whether you should be vegan is based on what you do,” senior Eddy Muyobo said. “Because it might not be something you’ve grown up on, transitioning into veganism might be hard.”

This care for oneself might even expand beyond financial and health considerations, expanding into the realm of cultural norms. Growing up in a household where veganism isn’t viable may also impact the ability to convert to this lifestyle.

The vegan diet is the most amazing thing I’ve ever done for myself,” Allan said. “But I know that it isn’t the right thing for everyone, not everyone will be happy on a plant based diet.”

Though veganism may hold restrictions in diet, the lifestyle may be far less restrictive than one can believe. In choosing veganism, one makes a conscious choice to cut out certain products and thus, companies and events like VeganMania Chicago seek to recreate those same products in an ethical way. While veganism may require a balance between consumption and activity, everyone may crave a slice of pizza once in a while and now, everyone has the option.

“Any diet is about balance,” Muyobo said. “Regardless of whether you’re an athlete or not, everyone needs to get the nutrients they need into their bodies to do the best they can.”