Things are changing on the food front. Even Clarksville, the military town where I live, has its own vegan store now. The Tree of Life, which opened here a few months back, carries organic, vegan and gluten-free food.
I went there recently and bought a bunch of stuff for my newly vegan older son. Wonders never cease: My red-meat-loving, Coke-guzzling 6-foot-4 son went off to college in Washington, D.C., last fall and announced during Christmas break that he had become a pescetarian.
“A what?” I asked. “Pescetarian. It’s someone who eats fish and other seafood, but no red meat or poultry,” he said. “That’s wonderful!” I said. “Now I know there’s a God in heaven. I’d long wished you’d eat less meat.” So I fixed him fish and shrimp in December.
In the spring, during a short visit, he informed us that he’s no longer pescetarian but vegetarian. “That’s fine, too. Just make sure you’re getting enough protein,” I said. A vegetarian myself, I secretly rejoiced, thinking, “Guess the organic apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”
When he came home this summer, he said he’d become a vegan. “Are you sure?” Isn’t it kind of extreme?” we asked him. But he was set on it, so we decided to be supportive.
It has been an interesting and instructive summer so far, and at times a little painful and funny. And expensive, I might add. Adjustments have been made in our family. I’ve learned to fix kale chips and veggie burgers and egg-less, dairy-less brownies for him.
My husband decided to skip eating chicken and fish out of respect for the vegan in our midst. My fridge and pantry now have an interesting assortment of Earth-friendly items: almond milk, Tofurky, soy cheese and the like.
Barbecue plans have been nixed, eating out options have become restricted.
Meanwhile, our rising college sophomore gave us a homework assignment: View a painful documentary on factory farming. “I’m not ready to be vegan just yet,” I told him. “I mean, I like cream in my coffee, and my homemade yogurt”
I also reminded him that an Indian-American family is a great place to be a vegan/vegetarian: Indians have had a few millennia to figure out how to make vegetarian food delicious.
It turns out my son is not that much an outlier. He is part of an invisible and fast-growing trend of millennials turning to plant-based diets. A study by the Hartman Group found 12 percent of millennials are “faithful vegetarians” versus 4 percent of Gen Xers and 1 percent of boomers.
In another study, campus foodservice divisions are reporting that “more students are aligning themselves along the less-meat to meatless spectrum from flexitarian to vegetarian to vegan and even raw diets.”
Meanwhile, an article reported that Bon Appetit Management Co. (which manages over 4,000 corporate, college and university accounts) found that from 2005 to 2010, there was a 50 percent increase in vegetarian students and a doubling in the percentage of vegan students.
The overall numbers are still small, but something heartening is happening: Millennials, many of whom care about animal rights and the environment, are making different food choices. And they, who are generally seen as social media-obsessed narcissists, are showing older generations the way in this area.