Looking for a summer camp that gives kids the knowledge, motivation, confidence and skills they need to make a positive difference in the world? And that serves vegan food? Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will teach kids to be leaders, activists, compassionate citizens, and solutionaries. Read on to learn more about the inspiring, life-changing YEA camp... Guest Post by Nora Kramer, Executive Director of Youth Empowered Action Camp (YEA)
Many veg kids and their parents are accustomed to being one of a small minority not wanting to eat hot dogs, hamburgers, and other typical meat-based meals at school or camp, and perhaps tolerating some ignorant remarks from others, maybe about the food chain or a desert island.
But what about a summer camp that serves all vegan food, and has plenty of other campers and staff who also care about animals, the planet, and good health? Or a camp that is all about helping youth get more involved in community service, social justice, and activism for causes they care about? That is Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp
, a week-long overnight camp with locations in northern California, Oregon, and Massachusetts.
YEA Camp, which is prepping for its fifth summer of programs for youth 12-17, is first and foremost a leadership program for young people who want to make a difference in the world. YEA's purpose is to support youth in getting active on an issue they care about once camp is over. The curriculum -- designed to build campers' knowledge, skills, confidence, and community support -- is engaging and fun, tapping into and expanding campers' passions and interests while affirming their power to make an impact on social issues they care about. Campers choose issues such as factory farming, school bullying, environmental protection, gay marriage, and more. They learn skills like how to start a school club, fundraise, and use art and social media for social change.
Alumni campers have done so many inspiring things after camp, it's hard to keep track or be surprised anymore. From launching school clubs, getting more vegan options in the school cafeteria, initiating school-wide anti-bullying programs, ending dissection in school biology classes, leading neighborhood clean-ups, holding fundraisers, and volunteering or interning with different nonprofit organizations, YEA Campers go home and make a difference on issues they care about for years to come.
While all of YEA Camp's food is vegan, being vegetarian or vegan is certainly not a requirement to attend, and in fact many campers have never given any more thought to going veg than the average teen. The vegan food is not the point of the camp -- changing the world is. YEA Camp seeks to bring our actions into alignment with our values and commitment to peace, compassion, equity, sustainability, and social justice. YEA Camp tries to model "being the change we wish to see in the world," as Gandhi said. Serving meat or dairy would undermine everything we are standing for.
At the beginning of camp, many non-veg campers are nervous about the food, while other campers who are vegan or vegetarian are beyond thrilled to be able to eat everything, and to not have to ask questions or eat the "alternative" or "special" meal at the side table, like at other camps. In the end, though, everyone is beyond impressed at the deliciousness of vegan cuisine, with kid-friendly meals such as French toast and pancakes for breakfast, mac n' cheeze and burritos for lunch, pizza with Daiya and veggie sushi for dinner, and chocolate chip cookies and brownies for dessert. Don't worry, there's also plenty of veggies and salads and gluten- and soy-free and other options too!
YEA Camp is an opportunity for youth to meet like-minded peers and adults, to pursue a cause that really matters to them, to get encouragement and training on how to make a difference in ways that feel right for them, and to have what many campers describe as a life-changing and unforgettable experience. And to eat amazing vegan food for a week while having a great time. Not a bad way to answer the question "How did you spend your summer vacation?"
YEA Camp 2013 will be held: California: July 14-21Oregon: July 27-August 3Massachusetts: August 10-17YEA Camp helps to make arrangements for youth flying in from out of the area. To learn more about YEA Camp, take a look at this two-minute video or visit www.yeacamp.org.
It's usually the parents who are writing blogs about raising vegetarian/vegan kids, so it's nice once in a while to flip the tables and hear directly from the young people themselves. I had the pleasure of interviewing Owen Ford-- a kind, smart, courageous, passionate teenage-girl who is making a difference for animals. Her parents should be very proud! Here are some of her thoughts on what it's like to be a vegan teenager.
Interview with Owen Ford, a vegan teenage-girl:
How old are you?
What age did you become vegan, and why?
I’ve been a vegetarian since second grade, when I began to get grossed out by meat. At that time, my Mom was a pescatarian, and while my Dad ate meat, both were very supportive. Then, when I was thirteen (almost fourteen), I learned about veganism. I had heard of it before but never knew much about it. After watching a DVD about food (I think it was one of Dr. McDougall’s), I went vegan overnight. The diet and lifestyle just made total sense to me, an animal lover and nature enthusiast since birth.
How did your parents react when you told them? How did your friends react?
My parents were super supportive. My friends had a lot of questions, and while they might not agree with it, they’re also supportive. I often make vegan desserts for them which helps a lot!
Are there other vegetarians and vegans in your school?
I’ve actually been homeschooled since 7th grade, but when I was in public school, I was teased for not eating meat. However, all of the teens I’ve met since then have been kind and curious about my diet, and I know many vegans and vegetarians.
How veg-friendly is your community (do restaurants and grocery stores offer veg products)?
The small town I live in is not even close to veg*n-friendly, but a nearby larger city is! They have restaurants with vegan options, and one even has a vegan and vegetarian buffet on Saturday nights. Many grocery stores have organic, gluten free, and veg*n sections, too.
Do you have any favorite vegan beauty products?
Yes! I love Eco Lips’ Bee Free Vegan Lip Balm and Nature’s Gate products.
What vegan issue is most important to you (i.e. fur, food, animal testing, etc.)?
All of them! I really care about animal welfare and animal rights. I’ve been told I don’t support animal rights since I have pets, but I think that’s false. I just believe that every creature has a right to be treated decently no matter what species, breed, age, color, or gender it is. Plain and simple.
Have you ever visited a Farm Sanctuary, if so which one?
I have not, but I would really like to!
Have you read any vegan books?
I’ve read Vegan Freak: Being Vegan in a Non-Vegan World, Vegan with a Vengeance, and many other vegan cookbooks. I’d really love to read more, though!
What do you think the future of the vegan movement is…?
I think it’s just going to keep progressing until we’re no longer the minority! I feel like the more people hear about it and the more people learn about it, the sooner it’ll be acceptable and normal and encouraged!
Can you give a few examples of some of the food you eat?
I eat a TON of fresh fruit! We make a lot of quinoa, bean, and vegetable salads, too. I love nachos, pizza, cookies, and pb&j sandwiches! I eat a pretty good balance of healthy vegan food and “junk” vegan food. My favorite dish right now is lasagna made of lasagna noodles, polenta, eggplant, portabellas, spinach, garlic, onions, tomato sauce, and Chreese sauce! We’re still perfecting the recipe for out tastes, but it’s delicious! We used this recipe here: http://blog.fatfreevegan.com/2007/02/polenta-lasagna-with-portabellas-and.html
What’s your favorite food?
Strawberries dipped in chocolate! Or Mexican food.
If you were giving a presentation on veganism to other teens, what is something important that you would say, or want them to know?
I would tell other teens that it’s not un-cool or lame to be a vegan, that it’s actually REALLY cool to stand up for what you believe in and to help others do the same!
Do you have an animal-advocate/vegan icon, or someone you look up to?
For inspiration Nathan Winograd for sure! I'm all for a No Kill Nation!
Do you currently, or have you ever done any animal activism (protests, letter writing, leafleting, etc)?
Yes, I have! I leafleted once for Mercy For Animals and I've raised money for World Wildlife Fund and the Forever Home Feline Ranch. I also foster kittens and volunteer for multiple rescues.
What would you say to vegetarians who haven't yet made the switch to veganism?
I would tell them that vegetarianism is an amazing choice, and veganism is even better! I would help them learn about the dairy and egg industries' cruel practices, the delicious vegan food, and the positive impact their choice would make.
What is the hardest part about being a vegan teen?
It’s really hard to not be able to order whatever I want off of a menu, and it can be hard to be around people who don’t support or understand your diet.
What is the best thing about being a vegan?
Everything! The food, the health, the compassion. I love being part of something positive!
What are your summer plans?
I'm going to be staying with my best friend and her family for three months this summer along with going to Youth Empowered Action Camp!Owen and her Mom...
Owen's companion animals... Bella Luna and Sarah
....and some of the kittens she's fostered.
A BIG thank you to Owen for sharing her perspective with us. She is not only an inspiration to others her age, but also a huge inspiration to the adults out there who are raising compassionate, vegetarian/vegan kids. You are the future!