Today I am talking with Jaimee Stoczko from PlvntStrong.
Hi Jaimee. Thanks so much for answering some questions with me. I wanted to interview you because after watching your latest Youtube video, it made me realize that many young teenagers like yourself want to go vegan, but simply can’t because of their families. In your video you make it clear that your family does not promote this lifestyle, or even accept it, but you still manage to live this lifestyle and thrive. Let’s begin.
Q: How old are you and how long have you been a vegan for?
I’m 17 and have been vegan since February 13, 2014!
Well I had been a vegetarian since August 2013, and I had made that transition purely for health reasons. I remember seeing a lot of posts on Instagram talking about the bad health effects of meat, so I decided to just cut it out to get closer to what I used to think was health. This still involved a lot of yogurt and generally food items that were high protein, low carb. In February I was inspired by Essena O’Neill’s rapid transition to veganism. She was posting a lot about documentaries and speeches that everyone should watch, and that was the first time I had heard of the documentary Earthlings. I had no idea what it was about, just that a lot of people claimed it was graphic. So, having no idea what to expect, I watched it. All I remember is that I was in my family room, home alone, with the lights off and each of my two puppies in my arms. I sobbed and sobbed and clutched on to them, wondering why this was the first time I was being made aware of all the suffering I had been taking part in. The day after, when I was trying to convince myself to just make the change to veganism, my parents came home from the grocery store. Holding my then-favorite ice cream by Ben & Jerry’s in her hand, my mom said, “Guess what we got you!” I didn’t want to eat it, but I was weak. I faced an inner-debate and finally settled on eating it. As I sat at my kitchen table struggling to take each bite, it finally hit me. This was my life. This was my decision. And I wasn’t going to let a stupid pint of dairy-filled sugar keep me from living with peace between my body and mind. So I cut off my crying, threw away the ice cream and made the switch. I haven’t once gone back, or even thought about it, since.
3. What do you think the best part about being a vegan is?
I kind of just touched on it, but by far the best effect of veganism has been the spiritual part. It has nothing to do with religion, a higher deity or God. It’s the peace that you feel between your thoughts and your actions. My whole life I had always loved animals and felt an immense connection to every animal, household or wild, that I encountered, and I considered myself an animal lover. It wasn’t until I was made aware of the torture I had been contributing to that I finally became a true animal lover. And the fact that every day I am living for a cause and doing something for that cause is what keeps me going. I have never felt so confident in myself or my actions, and I have never loved myself so much. If you can’t go vegan for the animals, do it for yourself. Be your own inspiration.
4. What did your parents think of you initially going vegan? How do they react to it currently?
Well initially, I didn’t tell anyone I was going vegan. I think I was half afraid of judgment, but mostly afraid that I would fail in my pursuit of compassion. Being a person who has gone through many phases, I could just envision my family making fun of me two months down the road, saying, “Remember that one time Jaimee tried to go vegan?” I didn’t even tell my friends. It felt like I was doing something taboo, and I was the only one who knew about. Well, about a month after going vegan I was in the kitchen with my mom. We had had discussions months earlier, at sporadic, unplanned times, about veganism and if I were to eventually eat that way. Well, we were having a similar discussion, and she said, “Yeah, I mean, I’m okay with you being vegetarian, but I don’t want you going vegan. It’s too unhealthy, and I don’t think I could allow you to eat that way.” At which point, I replied, “Well…I already have been for a month.” And then, excited, I added the zinger of, “And would you look at that, I’m still standing.” Hey, she couldn’t even argue with that. Later that night she told my father about it, and they both made it very clear that they were unhappy with me. All I kept telling them was, “This is my body, and what I put or don’t put into it has no effect on you.” I had always been extremely independent, so after a week or so they stopped bothering me about it. They would just poke fun at what I was eating when given the chance and act superior, which I used to take so personally. They are much better now, and they often fight in my defense concerning food. A couple weeks ago my brothers and their wives came over to my house to celebrate my birthday, and my parents had told them to get me a vegan dish. They told them exactly where to go and what to order, and they completely ignored it, leaving me with no food. My parents got so upset with my brothers, telling them how disappointed they were in them and how it was disrespectful to my way of living. It was in that moment that I realized their transformation. They still don’t cook, grocery shop or order vegan food for me, but they have come to respect my way of living. And for that I am extremely grateful.
I do! Before I could drive on my own, my dad would take me to the grocery store every weekend, and he would do his shopping while I did mine. Then we would meet at checkout. But that only lasted a few months, as I’ve been driving on my own since the end of May. They pay for the food, but I shop for it on my own and pay for my own dinners out and randomly purchased, unsanctioned food.
6. Do people ever make fun of you or give you a hard time because of this lifestyle choice?
7. Do you find it is difficult to go to public events or restaurants with people?
I used to definitely get anxiety about going out with people, but now I really don’t. If I have any ability to do so, I make sure we’re going to a restaurant where I will be able to get at least one dish. If there is no way I can change the place we are going, I call the restaurant/do internet research to see what they offer. If they have something for me, great. If they don’t, I eat before we go and then just drink water. Depending on who I go with, I may get concerned looks of people thinking I’m starving myself, but I simply explain myself. And once again, I love myself now to not feel offended even if they continue to think I’m starving myself. I know I’m not, and that’s all that matters.
The only piece of advice that I will give to beginner vegans is exactly what I have been saying throughout this entire interview: love yourself enough to have confidence in your decision to live cruelty free. Some people simply do not understand how you can feel so differently than the mainstream, and I feel sorry for them. But just because they can’t wrap their head around it doesn’t mean you should feel insecure. There are about a million people on Instagram and Tumblr who have your back, and you’re most definitely not crazy. Just be kind to those who don’t understand, educate when prompted, and lead by example. You have more power than you think. I cannot tell you how many times my friends have told me in the past month or so that they want to go vegetarian/vegan. My best friend even went vegetarian, and she was a hardcore meat eater before. And this was all ten months after I went vegan! Once people see that you’re living this way and feeling amazing, they will have no reason to argue against you. Be a shining light in a world of people living in the dark, and believe in the power of compassion. You are a part of something so big, and for that you should be proud.
9. Last question: what is your favourite vegan meal?
My favorite vegan meal is stirfry! Mmmmm I get this amazing coconut tofu stirfry from this place called Harvest near me. It’s to die for!