Kenzie experiments with veganism

Yufei Zhang, Staff Writer

Whenever people bring donuts to ASB or Dance Troupe, Mackenzie Huynh (11) has to politely deny them any time they’re offered to her. In response, she’s bombarded with questions of whether she’s on a diet, trying to lose weight, or even suffering from an eating disorder. But denying these sweet treats has nothing to do with those reasons: Huynh is a vegan.

Huynh began watching vegan Youtubers Posting their recipes at the start of quarantine in 2020. Her first reaction was that veganism seemed impossible for her—she loved meat too much. 

But the videos kept flowing into her recommendations, and as she gained more exposure to veganism, she realized that the meals weren’t that different from her carnivorous diet.

“I decided to try veganism for a week,” Huynh said. “A week wasn’t going to kill me, especially during COVID. Although my transition to veganism was hard for the first two weeks during my trial period, I felt like it was fun to try new recipes, and now I don’t feel like I’m lacking anything because I’m so used to not having [non-vegan food].”

During her first trip to the grocery store as a vegan, Huynh noticed herself buying more whole foods that she’d never tried before. 

“Because I’m Asian, I usually would have my mom’s books because [the foods] amazing,” Huynh said. “But, after becoming vegan, I had to figure out how to cook for myself. I ate more foods like chickpeas and started incorporating ingredients like tahini.”

Amidst her trial veganism week, Huynh coincidentally came across a documentary called Food, Inc. about where our food comes from. The documentary follows the food chain in the United States and features interviews with average Americans about their dietary habits. That same week, a friend sent Huynh a video of a man making pork starting from the process of a live pig to chopping the meat.

“The video was a wakeup call,” Huynh said. “I realized that yes, veganism was more work but I was home all the time so I had the time to do it. I think [veganism] isn’t that big of a sacrifice for me for the impact I’m able to make. I may not be able to alter climate change, but if I’m helping the Earth by going vegan, I think my sacrifice is worth it.”

At the same time, Huynh recognizes that her veganism involves a sacrifice for herself and the people surrounding her. Often, vegan alternatives are located in niche stores and are more expensive than fast food or a cut of meat. When hanging out with friends, Hunyh said that she can feel like an inconvenience because her diet can make it more difficult to decide where they go to eat.

“I feel like the spotlight is on me when [my family and friends] decide where we go to eat,” Huynh said. “A lot of restaurants are pretty lenient and so I can make a non-vegan meal vegan by taking out or adding ingredients. But there are definitely times during banquets or team dinners on my dance team where I have to get a separate meal because I’m vegan. In the beginning, when I was looking at the menus and the ingredients, it felt like a lot of work. But now it’s gotten easier and [checking the menu] feels like just another part of my day.”

Although Huynh’s vegan diet has become second nature for her, other people’s reactions to her veganism have remained judgemental.

“I think my parents would still be willing to pay me to not be vegan because when I’m making a meal, I have to make a separate meal than my family,” Huynh said.

Even Huynh’s doctor, when Huynh first told her she became vegan, had concerns about her diet.

“When I first told my doctor I became vegan, her first instinct was to ask if I had a healthy relationship with food and my body,” Huynh said. “She knew I was a dancer and there is definitely a stigma around dancers suffering with body image and eating disorders so she was concerned this new diet was motivated by weight-loss. I’m a teenage girl in high school right now, not gonna deny any of these issues haven’t crossed my mind, but my veganism wasn’t driven by that. It took a bit of explaining to convince her that.”

Through her journey as a vegan, Huynh has developed a new preference for food. Because she no longer eats animal-based products, she said that she enjoys the taste of vegan substitutes.

“My veganism was inspired by experimenting with new recipes and food, Huynh said. “I feel good knowing that my diet is helping the environment and climate change everyday.”.