September 08, 2010

The Virtues of Going Vegan

Claire Askew, a sophomore at Lewis & Clark, shows how living without animal products is not only possible but also healthful, delicious, and fun.
Claire Askew, a sophomore at Lewis & Clark, shows how living without animal products is not only possible but also healthful, delicious, and fun.

by Genevieve J. Long

Teriyaki rice with tofu. Arugula and chickpea salad. Tazo tea and a peanut butter–chocolate chip cookie. For Claire Askew CAS ’13, this is a typical lunch on campus. It’s also made entirely without animal products—yes, even the cookie.

Askew (pronounced “ask you”) is the author of Generation V: The Complete Guide to Going, Being, and Staying Vegan as a Teenager (Tofu Hound Press, 2008). A soon-to-be-sophomore at Lewis & Clark, Askew became a vegetarian shortly before her 15th birthday after talking with a vegetarian friend and researching the treatment of animals in modern industrial agriculture. A few months later, after more research, Askew stopped eating dairy and eggs, and now she avoids all animal products.

In Generation V, Askew makes a case for veganism on ethical grounds. Drawing on agriculture industry reports, she describes the distress of dairy cows when their calves are taken away, the confinement of veal calves, and the disposal of male chicks by suffocation or maceration. (The male chickens are useless to the poultry industry because the genetic strain for laying chickens is designed to produce eggs, not meat.) “When I thought deeply about why I became a vegetarian, being vegan was the next logical step,” Askew says.

For ethical vegans, avoiding animal products combats speciesism, the idea that “animals have no interests of their own and are only here to serve humans,” as Askew writes in Generation V. She explains, “Seeing someone—including an animal—as other is a way to justify taking whatever you can from them. That thinking forms the basis for sexism and racism.” Like other advocates for animal rights, Askew compares the commodification of animals to black slavery and the oppression of women.

Generation V is a comprehensive guide to veganism. “I included everything I wish I’d known about being vegan as a teen,” Askew says. “The book is for teens thinking about becoming vegan, new vegans, and those who have been vegan for a while but want more help or inspiration.”

According to Askew, vegan teens face different challenges than vegan adults. Parents often consider veganism a phase, are reluctant to change their cooking habits, or feel rejected when their vegan teen refuses to eat favorite foods. Askew encourages teens to explain their reasons for being vegan calmly and to offer to help with shopping and cooking. “The dinner table is never the place to get angry or give a lecture,” she writes.

While stressing that veganism is about more than avoiding animal products, Generation V debunks the notion that vegans eat “salad for breakfast, nothing for lunch, and scraped-off side dishes for dinner.” The book includes vegan recipes for such favorites as chili, nachos, and brownies. Askew suggests breakfast, lunch, and dinner options and includes a list of vegan cookbooks. She also devotes a chapter to health and nutrition, including sources of calcium, iron, and protein and tips for addressing parental concerns.

Askew’s emphasis on the variety and pleasure of eating vegan grew from her struggles to find delicious meals in her hometown. Askew hails from Kansas City, Kansas, a city associated with cattle drives and barbecue. When she became vegan, she joined a group of local vegans for support and inspiration. “It was 10 to 20 people,” she says. In her hometown, restaurant choices were limited: “There was one vegetarian restaurant and one completely vegan restaurant, but the vegan restaurant closed.”

Askew says her decision to attend Lewis & Clark was easy, not just because of the college’s academic reputation but also due to its location in vegan-friendly Portland. “There’s a vegan mini mall here,” Askew notes. The mall, at Southeast 12th Avenue and Stark Street, includes a bakery, grocery store, clothing store, and tattoo parlor (some tattoo inks are made with animal products). Favorite restaurants include Vita and Blossoming Lotus. On campus, Lewis & Clark food service provider Bon Appétit offers vegan options, from tofu tagine with couscous to falafel with hummus, at every meal. The cafeteria occasionally hosts vegan theme days, serving dishes such as mock ribs, cashew cheese, and corn salad with cilantro and lime. “I’m delighted to be at a school where I can feel at home, in this and many other ways,” Askew says.

For Askew, writing Generation V is a step on her journey to promote ethical consumption. “I believe in using whatever your talents are,” Askew says. “My talent is writing, so I wrote a book.” The book includes tips for vegan activism, from leafleting to sporting vegan T-shirts to “culinary activism” (e.g., serving vegan food at parties). Askew says, “A lot of people perceive activism as holding a sign and going to protests. Setting a good example in day-today living is way more effective.” Her blog, at, aims to combat the image of vegans as “crusty hippies with bland, repetitive diets.” With wit and practical advice, Askew shows teens that vegans are “normal people who have hobbies and might even like to bake.” According to Askew, Generation V’s members enjoy life (and a few vegan cupcakes), stay healthy, and just might change the world.