Vegetables, yo! They're hella good for you!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

I ended up signing up for the Plant-Based Nutrition course I was pondering a few months back. I have rather mixed feelings about it which I'll save for another day, but tonight I found myself in a class discussion of how to reach out to teens about nutrition. A classmate of mine had, I kid you not, written a "rap" to appeal to a young audience. I won't quote the lyrics, but the lead in was a list of diseases like Cancer and Diabetes, that can be prevented with a plant-based diets.

I can distinctly remember my 6th grade English teacher rapping a lesson one day. Even as an eleven year old white girl in the suburbs, I was pretty sure this was the lamest thing ever. Jason Schwartzman parodies this ridiculous trope of connecting with urban youth in a very special "Yo Teach" episode.
As I told my classmate, teenagers are actually pretty savvy about knowing when adults are co-opting their forms of expression in order to teach them a lesson.

At any rate, this is to say nothing of the bigger point which is that warning an eighteen year old about preventing heart disease is about as productive as warning your six year old about saving for retirement. You may plant a tiny seed, but they are not at an age where they're thinking that long term.

When I think back to high school it's almost infuriating that I ate after school at McDonald's and Dunkin Donuts on a very regular basis, yet I had the energy to dance in the Color Guard, perform in every school play, and stay on the honor roll while being ridiculously skinny. And now, ten plus years later with my vegan diet my BMI puts me at just slightly overweight.

I don't want to emphasize weight too much, but it's worth noting that since going vegan not only have I gained significant weight, but my skin has gotten worse, I've developed joint pain (I may have patellar tendonitis in my knee) and those superficial signs of aging are starting to appear. Wrinkles not just around my eyes, but on my hands too. Joy.

Of course many of these changes are just symptomatic of aging, but even in a relatively healthy vegan diet, there are certainly changes I can make (and am!) to my lifestyle to help slow and reverse these things. More on this to come. But my point is, it wasn't until I started actually experiencing these things that I started to care about the health aspect of my veganism.

So for people who do want to reach out to teens and young adults I would suggest appealing to them with tangible concepts that are relevant to their lives. Focus on the increased energy to help them in sports or dance. Mood-elevating benefits, boosts to cognitive function, clearer skin, shinier hair.

Just, for the love of god, don't rap about it. Don't spray it in graffiti. Don't hire kid actors in urban streetwear. Don't text them health tips. Don't try to use their lingo. You'd be amazed by how much kids will respect you when you're just real and honest with them.