Monday, January 19, 2009

Veggie Hero: Nathan Runkle

Nathan Runkle is my kind of guy. He grew up on a farm in Ohio (so did I) and became a vegetarian based on his interaction with the animals (so did I). But Nathan took it a big step beyond the farm: he became a dedicated animal activist and founded the growing non-profit Mercy for Animals. I had a chance to meet him a few weeks ago and was impressed with his balanced presentation to a college class and his gentle but firm approach to changing minds. With Nathan at the helm, Mercy for Animals is sure to go far.

Are you vegetarian or vegan?

How long have you been veg*n?
Vegetarian for 13 years and vegan for 9 years

What inspired you to go veg?
Growing up on a small farm off the back country roads of Saint Paris, Ohio, I was surrounded by animals since the day I was born. Like most children, I grew up with a natural affinity for animals, and over time I developed strong bonds and friendships with our family's dogs and cats with whom we shared our home. However, it wasn't until later in life that I made the connection between my beloved dog, Sadie, for whom I would do anything to protect her from abuse and discomfort, and the nameless pigs, cows, and chickens who were transformed from living, feeling individuals to consumable corpses known to me only as breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I came to understand that every time I sat down to eat I was making achoice that would not only affect my own health, but have a profound impact on the lives of animals. After reading about the true horror animals endured in our nation's factory farms and slaughterhouses, I decided to put my compassionate values into action in all aspects of my life - including my food choices.

What's your best story of trying to find veg food?
Oh, there are too many to count. Being a traveling vegan, especially to areas of the country that are not always the most veg-friendly, has certainly encouraged me to become creative at times. When I'm in a pinch, I always find the vegan options at Subway and Taco Bell to be life-savers.

How do you handle family holiday dinners?
I think the best way to promote veganism is by offering information, resources, and most importantly, amazing food with an open heart and encouragement. This applies to our families as well. After years of this approach, I've found that most of my family has either adopted a plant-based diet, or at least enjoy and appreciate it. Many of our family holiday dinners are now completely vegan.

What's your favorite veg food?
The vegan Radical Reuben sandwich at The Chicago Diner. It's so good it has the power to turn the most die-hard meat-eater into a vegan injust one sitting.

Do you have a favorite veg book?
I adore VegNews magazine - it's filled with such uplifting, current, fun, and inspiring information, recipes, and resources. (It's published by another one of our Veggie Heroes, Joseph Connelley.)

Tofu or tempeh?

What did you have for breakfast today?
A raw Lara Bar, banana, and hot tea.

Monday, January 12, 2009

1 in 200 American Kids are Vegetarian

Our very own Veggie Hero Dr. Amy Lanou is quoted in this Associated Press story!

First US count finds 1 in 200 kids are vegetarian
By MIKE STOBBE – 01.11.09

Sam Silverman is co-captain of his high school football team — a safety accustomed to bruising collisions. But that's nothing compared with the abuse he gets for being a vegetarian.
"I get a lot of flak for it in the locker room," said the 16-year-old junior at Westborough High School in Massachusetts.

"All the time, my friends try to get me to eat meat and tell me how good it tastes and how much bigger I would be," said Silverman, who is 5-foot-10 and 170 pounds. "But for me, there's no real temptation."

Silverman may feel like a vegetable vendor at a butchers' convention, but about 367,000 other kids are in the same boat, according to a recent study that provides the government's first estimate of how many children avoid meat. That's about 1 in 200.

Other surveys suggest the rate could be four to six times that among older teens who have more control over what they eat than young children do.

Vegetarian diets exclude meat, but the name is sometimes loosely worn. Some self-described vegetarians eat fish or poultry on occasion, while others — called vegans — cut out animal products of any kind, including eggs and dairy products.

Anecdotally, adolescent vegetarianism seems to be rising, thanks in part to YouTube animal slaughter videos that shock the developing sensibilities of many U.S. children. But there isn't enough long-term data to prove that, according to government researchers.

The new estimate of young vegetarians comes from a recent federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study of alternative medicine based on a survey of thousands of Americans in 2007. Information on children's diet habits was gleaned from about 9,000 parents and other adults speaking on the behalf of those under 18.

"I don't think we've done a good job of counting the number of vegetarian youth, but I think this is reasonable," Amy Lanou, a nutrition scientist at the University of North Carolina-Asheville, said of the government estimate. She works with the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a vegan advocacy group.

Vegetarians say it's animal welfare, not health, that most often causes kids to stop eating meat.
"Compassion for animals is the major, major reason," said Richard Schwartz, president of Jewish Vegetarians of North America, an organization with a newsletter mailing list of about 800.

"When kids find out the things they are eating are living animals — and if they have a pet...."
Case in point is Nicole Nightingale, 14, of Safety Harbor, Fla. In 2007, Nightingale was on the Internet to read about chicken when she came across a video on YouTube that showed the birds being slaughtered. At the end, viewers were invited to go to the Web site — People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

Nicole told her parents she was going vegan, prompting her mother to send an angry letter to PETA. But the vegan diet is working out, and now her mother is taking steps to become a vegetarian, too, said Nightingale, an eighth-grader.

She believes her experience was typical for a pre-adolescent vegetarian. "A lot more kids are using the Internet. They're curious about stuff and trying to become independent and they're trying to find out who they are," she said.

Vegetarians are most often female, from higher-income families and living on the East or West coasts, according to previous studies. One good place to find teen vegetarians is Agnes Scott College, a mostly white, all-women's private school in suburban Atlanta with about 850 students. Roughly 5 to 10 percent of Agnes Scott students eat vegetarian, said Pete Miller, the college's director of food service.

Frequently, the most popular entree at the college dining hall is a fresh mozzarella sandwich with organic greens. And the comment board (called "the Beef Board," as in "what's your beef?") often contains plaudits for vegetarian dishes or requests for more. "They're very vocal," Miller said of his vegetarian diners.

Eating vegetarian can be very healthy — nutritionists often push kids to eat more fruits and vegetables, of course. For growing children, however, it's important to get sufficient amounts of protein, vitamins B12 and D, iron, calcium and other important nutrients that most people get from meat, eggs and dairy.

Also, vegetarian diets are not necessarily slimming. Some vegetarian kids cut out meat but fill up on doughnuts, french fries, soda or potato chips, experts said.

"Vegetarian doesn't mean low-calorie," said Dr. Christopher Bolling, who directs weight management research at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center. He said roughly 10 to 15 percent of the overweight kids who come to his medical center's weight loss program have tried a vegetarian diet at some point before starting the program.

Rayna Middlebrooks, 15, last year started a weight-loss program offered by Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, a nonprofit hospital organization. She said she's been on a vegetarian diet for four years and now carries about 250 pounds on her 5-foot-3 inch frame.

Her mother confirmed that, and said that although Rayna does a great job of cooking vegetable-rich stir-fried meals for herself, the girl also loves pasta, soda and sweets. "I have to watch her with the candy," said Barbara Middlebrooks, of Decatur.

On the flip side is Silverman, the Boston-area football player. He's pleased with his health and has no problem sticking to his diet. Rather than try to negotiate the school cafeteria line, he brings his lunch to school. It's the same lunch every day — rye bread, some chicken-like tofu, cheese, a clementine and an assortment of Nutrigrain, Cliff, granola and Power Bars.

He was raised vegetarian and said it's now so deeply ingrained that the idea of eating meat is nauseating. Recently, he ate something he belatedly realized might contain chicken. "I felt sick the rest of the day, until I threw up," he said.