Vegetarian and Vegan Youth—or VegYouth for short—is high school group created last summer by Chloe Falkenheim. The group is an international network of more than 50 student club leaders—and growing—that provides inspiration and support needed to ensure that their activism is successful. “We are the place for like-minded student activists to have regular discussions,” says Chloe, “and we provide mentoring opportunities, activism guides, a student activist of the month with a $250 prize, and a connection to the broader movement.” I asked Chloe to explain why VegYouth is unique, what motivates her activism, and what inspired her.
You went vegan at 13. What inspired you to make this change at such a young age–and what kind of support did you get?
My story dates back to when I was three years old. I had just finished watching the movie Chicken Run and came to the shocking revelation that chicken indeed does come from chickens. And then when I was six years old, I read Charlotte’s Web and decided to never eat pork again, and became vegetarian when I was nine.
I became vegan at age 13 after learning about a vegan celebrity, but became passionate after looking into the eyes of animals in my first factory farm video and learning about the interconnection between animal rights, environmental, health, and social justice causes. I realized that literally the best thing we can do to prevent suffering overall is to create a much more vegan society.
I was incredibly fortunate that my parents supported, though sometimes reluctantly, my choices, as so many youth are held back from living compassionately due to lack of parental support. I created VegYouth to help youth overcome any lack of support and help them change their diets.
Like many teens, though I fit in mostly, I was teased by my friends for being vegan. I also never met another vegan for the first two years. This led me to recognize and really appreciate the importance of community in staying vegan, and I was determined to create a community for veg teens.
What forms of activism do you enjoy most?
School clubs are my favorite form of activism.
Imagine if every non-vegan was exposed to a positive vegan message every single day, was given an opportunity to try vegan food every single month, had access to delicious vegan options whenever they dined out, and was surrounded by a friendly community which provided them all the support they need to change their lifestyle.
This is a reality I achieved with my high school club, persuading my school cafeteria to add vegan options, running awareness raising campaigns that reached every student, adding plant-based nutrition to our schools health curriculum, starting a vegan mentoring program, and more. This is a reality we could achieve with veg school clubs on every high school and college.
Student groups are so effective because schools are where students spend their day, and because peer-to-peer activism between students is most effective. Students have a voice in their schools, while outside activists don’t.
Was it difficult to start VegYouth Alliance?
Starting a high school club was one of the most difficult things I did, and I found no support or resources to help me out. I made mistakes and did not have any guidance to implement my projects, and often felt discouraged by lack of positive feedback and the slow speed it took to make changes at my school. But I learned a lot from my mistakes, wanted to pass on my trial-and-error learning, and hungered to connect with other groups to share ideas, tips, success, questions, and community with other club leaders.
I also realized that what I did with my club would not make a dent unless it was replicated everywhere. If only a few students learned about why to go veg, that wouldn’t make a huge difference. But if students at schools everywhere in the world took action, that would make a huge shift. I wanted to spark that societal shift! Therefore, I created the VegYouth Alliance.
What can we expect from VegYouth as you begin another year of outreach?
Expect to see more youth engaged in the movement, changing their diets, talking to their family and peers about these issues, and beginning activism! We’ll be recruiting more school clubs to join the VegYouth Alliance from states across the U.S. and in countries around the world. And we’ll be expanding our online community to provide support to young vegetarians and vegans. We’ll also be improving our programs based on feedback from youth, adding more articles and guides to our website, speaking at vegfests to expand our outreach, and becoming an official non-profit.
How can people get involved and support VegYouth?
Intern with us!
What do you do to de-stress from a day of activism?
I run regularly, and I’m doing cross country next year!
I love people and hanging out with friends, and I love listening to music and watching movies. I’m obsessed with the musical Wicked. I also play the flute.