When 18-year-old Chiao Lin of Bel Air tells her classmates she's kicked meat out of her diet, their reaction is sometimes difficult to deal with. "They're surprised or shocked," Ms. Lin said. "They're not used to it."
Despite the praise given to those concerned with their health and the environment, being a vegetarian teen-ager still has a rub. Besides awkward responses, social and nutritional dilemmas creep up, such as "What do I do when I'm served meat at a friend's house?" and "What do I eat at Thanksgiving?"
To answer these questions, two national vegetarian organizations based in Maryland are sponsoring a newsletter aimed at and created primarily by vegetarian teen-agers. Called How on Earth! the publication plans to unearth such issues as vegetarian living, ecology, animals and activism.
The Vegetarian Education Network (VE-Net) of Bel Air and the Vegetarian Resource Group of Baltimore are behind the newsletter. It will be published four times a year; the first issue was distributed three weeks ago, according to Sally Clinton, the founder of VE-Net.
Last summer 11 students between the ages of 14 and 18 -- from Maryland, Pennsylvania and Connecticut -- got together in Bel Air to plan the first issue. Ms. Lin, one of those working on the newsletter, said, "We want to help others who are going through the same changes [and deal with] how society reacts to #F vegetarians."
In every issue a registered dietitian will answer nutritional questions, such as the amount of iron needed for a healthy diet. The rest -- writing, editing and designing -- will be completed by teen-age volunteers under the direction of Ms. Clinton. The spring issue contains articles on how to start a vegetarian or environmental group in school, personal tales of "going veggie," product boycott information, artwork and poems. Readers are asked to submit items.
"These teen-agers are concerned about the environment and animal issues," Ms. Clinton said on why young adults choose to be a vegetarian. Although their parents usually are not vegetarians, they do reduce their meat intake after their children change their diets, she said.
"There are a lot of myths that go along with nutrition," Ms. Clinton said. She hopes the newsletter will be a vital educational tool for young people. With VE-Net, Ms. Clinton also travels to schools to give presentations on vegetarianism and nutrition and to introduce non-meat lunches for a day.
Most school lunch programs do not offer non-meat alternatives, since USDA guidelines for protein substitutes are somewhat restrictive, according to Ms. Clinton. For example, the USDA does not allow tofu, a soybean product, as a protein substitute.
A yearly subscription to the newsletter costs $10. Send inquiries to VE-Net, P.O. Box 896, Bel Air, Md. 21014.