(5 of 9)
By adolescence, kids can read the labels but often ignore the ingredients. Research shows that calcium intake is often insufficient in American teens. By contrast, lacto-ovo teens usually have abundant calcium intake. For vegans, however, consuming adequate amounts of calcium without the use of fortified foods or supplements is difficult without careful dietary planning. Among vegan youth who do not take supplements, there is reason for concern with respect to iron, calcium, vitamins D and B12, and perhaps also selenium and iodine.
For four years Christina Economos has run the Tufts longitudinal health study on young adults, a comprehensive survey of lifestyle habits among undergraduates. In general, she finds that "kids who were most influenced by family diet and health values are eating healthy vegetarian or low-meat diets. But there is a whole group of students who decide to become vegetarians and do it in a poor way. The ones who do it badly don't know how to navigate in the vegetarian world. They eat more bread, cheese and pastry products and load up on salad dressing. Their saturated-fat intake is no lower than red-meat eaters, and they are more likely to consume inadequate amounts of vitamin B12 and protein. They may think they are healthier because they are some sort of vegetarian and they don't eat red meat, but in fact they may be less healthy."
Jenny Woodson, 20, now a junior at Duke, has been a vegetarian from way back. At 6, on a trip to McDonald's, she ordered a tossed salad. When Jenny lived in a dorm at high school, she quickly realized that teens do not live on French fries and broccoli alone. "We ended up making vegetarian sandwiches with bagels and ingredients from the salad bar, cheese fries and stuffed baked potatoes with cottage cheese." Jenny and her friends were careful to avoid high-fat, calorie-laden fare at the salad bar, but for those who don't exercise restraint, salad-bar fixings can become vegetarian junk food.
Maggie Ellinger-Locke, 19, of the St. Louis, Mo., suburb of University City, has been a vegetarian for eight years and went vegan at 15. Since then she has not worn leather or wool products or slept under a down comforter. She has not used cups or utensils that have touched meat. "It felt like we were keeping kosher," says Maggie's mother Linda, who isn't Jewish. At high school Maggie was ridiculed, even shoved to the ground, by teen boys who apparently found her eating habits threatening. She found a happy ending, of sorts, enrolling at Antioch College, where she majors in ecofeminism. "Here," she says, "the people on the defensive are the ones who eat meat."
Maggie hit a few potholes on the road to perfection. Until recently, she smoked up to two packs of cigarettes a day (cigarettes, after all, are plants fortified with nicotine), quitting only because she didn't want to support the tobacco business. And she freely admits to an eating disorder: for the past year she has been bulimic, bingeing and vomiting sometimes as much as once a day to cope with stress. But she insists she is true to her beliefs: even when bingeing, she remains dedicated to vegan consumption.