Vegetarian Cullen Taussig and his fellow Hudson pals, Garrett Murdoch and Matthew Henry, meet every Tuesday for “wing night” at Buffalo Wild Wings in Streetsboro. It’s an unexpected setting for a vegetarian, but 20-year-old Taussig stays clearly in the fold, yet on the fray, of the ritual gathering. He pays no mind to the basket of wings on the table and munches on a cheese quesadilla.
“I still give him a hard time,” says Henry, who has been dining on mainstream meat meals alongside his vegetarian friend for more than a decade.
Accustomed to the friendly razzing, Taussig, who was raised as a vegetarian, says he can’t imagine ever eating meat. He has never — ever — had a burger, a steak or a chicken wing.
“Meat, when I see it, doesn’t look or smell unappetizing, but I don’t have an interest in it,” he says. “I don’t know what it tastes like. I don’t have a draw to it.”
While Taussig’s vegetarian upbringing places him in the minority — a 2007 Centers for Disease Control poll found that one in 200 children 18 and younger are vegetarian — a meatless diet can be a healthy choice for a growing child.
“It’s becoming more common as people, in general, become more health conscious,” says Dr. Susan Shah, a Twinsburg pediatrician with Akron Children’s Hospital Pediatrics. “You can have just as healthy a vegetarian diet as one containing animal products. I don’t recommend one over another. It’s all about balance.”
That balance, Shah says, includes a diet offering necessary nutrients. A well-rounded vegetarian diet lacks only vitamin B-12, which supplements easily supply. Shah points out that vitamin B-12 dosage requirements vary with a person’s age and should be physician-directed.
Maintaining a nutrient-sufficient vegan diet, or one without animal products, is only slightly trickier. Shah says a vegan diet could lack necessary amounts of calcium, which nondairy foods like kale, bok choy, almonds and tomatoes provide.
Emma Fobean, a 16-year-old Hoban High School student, made the switch from a vegetarian to a vegan diet several months ago, after researching cruelty to farm animals.
“I was looking up information about animals and how they were treated, and it sort of all culminated that I should go vegan, that it’s the best way to help them out,” she says.
While Fobean says at the start of her vegan diet she faced challenges with food options — think traditional peanut butter cookies containing eggs — she has since discovered a trove of choices. Her favorites — fried zucchini, vegan muffins and pasta tossed with vegetables — find their place at the family dinner table thanks to her parents’ support of her diet.
“For teens, I would say it’s not as hard as it sounds,” she says. “If you know what you need to put meals together, it’s not difficult.”
Fobean says she plans to stay the vegan course. “I don’t see a reason for consuming animal products,” she says. “I see myself being vegan for the rest of my life.”
Motivated by both the personal health and animal welfare benefits of a vegetarian diet, Taussig says he’s committed to vegetarianism for life. Growing up in a household with a vegan father and a vegetarian mother, sister and brother, Taussig says his family kitchen has always supplied a steady stream of meatless selections. His years spent at campsites as an eventual Eagle Scout, however, tested his vegetarian lifestyle.
“With that comes campfires and cooking lots of hotdogs. I had to find alternatives. I wasn’t about to change my ways,” says Taussig, who would fill his hotdog buns with lettuce and cheese and snack on apples and energy bars along hiking trails. “I tended to eat more often than my meat-eating counterparts because I didn’t have large protein-filled meals that would sustain me. I’m more of a grazer. You learn very early that you have to find unique ways to replenish as a hiker, to combat getting empty or feeling hungry.”
Taussig and Fobean both say they have friends who have expressed interest in vegetarianism, but none have taken the plunge. After all, these are deep waters to navigate without a lifeline of family support, especially if you’re a child not in charge of filling the home refrigerator.
“If you do your research and show your parents options, they can be supportive,” Fobean says.
Taussig suggests that youngsters ease into vegetarianism by starting as flexitarians, or part-time vegetarians. For instance, designate Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays to planning and helping to prepare tasty vegetarian meals for the whole family.
“If kids can possibly show their parents that they can make good-tasting vegetarian meals, it’s a start, but it’s a slow process,” Taussig says. “I know how lucky I am to have had my parents make that decision and to follow suit. It’s so nice that environment was fostered for me.”
/ Writer Denise Henry is a part-time freelance writer and full-time public relations representative living in Hudson.
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