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CALL THEM FASHION PLATES
Forget the hippie-dippy image: For some teen vegetarians, a meat-free diet is a style statement.
Sentinel Staff Writer
May 11, 2008
Sixteen-year-old Savannah Grissinger loves fashion. She wears the latest trends. She's an avid reader of fashion magazines. And she's a recent graduate of the John Casablancas modeling school.
She's also a vegetarian.
"I'm doing it for the animals," said the Oviedo High School sophomore. "They are treated cruelly."
In April, Savannah was named a finalist in PETA's "Cutest Vegetarian Alive." The online contest is a youth version of the activist group's "Sexiest Vegetarian Alive," whose past winners include country singer Shania Twain and American Idol star Carrie Underwood.
Now, food and fashion intertwine in the teen's life.
The fastest growing segment of the vegetarian population is teenage girls. Eleven percent of girls ages 13 to 17 identify themselves as vegetarian or vegan, according to the American Dietetic Association. That's compared with 7 percent of the adult female population who don't eat meat.
The dietetic association has no earlier figures for the number of vegetarian teenage girls. But 10 years ago, only 2 percent of children 6 to 17 didn't eat meat, signaling a definite trend.
But unlike the granola-crunching, hippie stereotypes once associated with non-meat eaters, being a vegetarian -- or a vegan, which means also abstaining from dairy and eggs -- is becoming increasingly popular among fashion-conscious girls such as Grissinger.
"Vegan doesn't mean hairy armpits, patchouli and dreadlocks," said Rory Freedman, co-author of Skinny Bitch, the best-seller credited with giving the vegan image an overhaul.
Published in 2005, the book -- which picked up steam after Victoria "Posh Spice" Beckham was photographed carrying it -- wraps the old "meat is murder" message in a Sex and the City package.
The cover features a pencil sketch of a wispy woman in a black dress. The book's language is girlfriend to girlfriend: "What's better than eating? If you say 'sex,' you're either a liar or a pervert."
But the authors say their book is more than just about using veganism to stay thin in order to wear trendy, body-hugging fashions such as Juicy Couture pants or Forever 21 halter tops.
"It is about treating your body and animals with respect," said Kim Barnouin, who wrote the book with Freedman, her best friend. "We love to shop, and we care about the environment."
Among girls such as Savannah, the message resonates.
"We are making our teenagers think," said Barnouin, a Delray Beach resident and former Ford agency model who now has an infant son. "This generation is waking up and making their own choices."
Savannah decided to become a vegetarian after seeing images of slaughtered animals online, including snippets of the movie, Earthlings. Narrated by actor Joaquin Phoenix, the film takes the viewer inside the fur trade and slaughterhouses.
"I had heard about animals being slaughtered, but when I finally saw it, I couldn't believe how horrible it is," said Savannah.
Sixteen months later, she's still a vegetarian. Savannah's stance has led to her family consuming less meat and thinking more about their food sources.
Her grandfather, Mark Walters, grills tofu. Her grandmother, Bobbi Walters, sautes vegetables with soy sauce and noodles.
"I admire her for it," said Bobbi Walters, 56.
Julie Norris, who runs Dandelion Communitea Cafe, a vegan restaurant on Thornton Avenue in Orlando, said young girls are maintaining a vegetarian or vegan diet mainly because of the support they receive at home.
"Parents today are much more supportive than a generation ago," said Norris. "They want their children to be who they are."
In high school, Norris tried to become a vegetarian after researching a term paper on Mahatma Gandhi, who like many Indians, didn't eat meat because of cultural and spiritual beliefs.
Her parents -- whom she describes as "conservatives from the Midwest" -- thought she was weird.
"They called it my 'Gandhi phase,' " said Norris, 29.
Their disdain for her dietary choice made being a vegetarian at home difficult, and she ultimately gave in.
She eventually resumed her vegetarian diet.
Now, her restaurant serves all vegan dishes except for a few organic cheeses. In addition to seeing more teens, she's also seeing more parents walk in.
One mother thanked her. "It made her understand her teen more," said Norris.
But will the teens stick with it? Or is being a vegetarian just a passing fad like the latest hemline length?
For Sophia Seeramlal of Altamonte Springs, becoming vegetarian is a lifelong decision.
Seeramlal, 22, became a vegan five years ago after reading a 15-page pamphlet titled, Why Vegan?.
"We do it for others," she said. "And it is something we think about every time we sit down to eat."
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