Meatless Monday: Advocates of All Ages

Sarah Perry and her husband Tony Kingsley raised their three children to be compassionate and to stand up for their beliefs. They got it, especially with their middle child, Andy Kingsley, 11, who recently became vegan -- overnight. He shared the pizza at his younger sister's birthday party one evening and the next morning announced he wouldn't have milk on his cereal for breakfast, wouldn't have cheese pizza again ever, wouldn't have anything to do with harming animals. The animals are grateful. Andy's parents are a little overwhelmed.

Andy's always had an affinity for animals, but he's now the only vegan in the family and the bulk of meal responsibility falls to his mother. Sarah is executive director of The Second Step, which provides comprehensive services for survivors of domestic violence and their children. "Shopping and preparing separate meals for Andy and the others is a lot of extra work. As a mom with three kids, it was so much easier to pick up pizza."

Andy's learning to fend for himself in the kitchen, making tofu scrambles and veggie stirfries. "I'm a guy who likes to eat." He also runs cross country and bikes and swims, so a nutritionist steered him towards the best plant-based foods for energy. Vegan favorites include Thai curries and bean-rich dishes like "lentil soup, falafel, hummus. And tofu," he says. "I really enjoy tofu." There's something you don't hear every day, especially from someone Andy's age. "He looks great," Sarah says. "Taller and slim and very, very healthy."

Andy, who gathered a lot of vegan and animal rights information from PETA and other web sources says, "I don't eat food without checking the label." At camp, since he couldn't be sure what was in the food, he refused to eat. At home, initially, he refused to sit with his family when they were eating anything "that's hurting animals. My instant reaction is to be angry and upset and draw away," he says. "I'm repulsed."

With the zeal of a convert, Andy sometimes makes his brother and sister feel "like they're bad," says Sarah, and mealtimes can be "emotionally exhausting." She tries to eat vegan with Andy, but with two other children, a husband and a demanding job, "I don't do it a hundred percent of the time. That disappoints him," she says. "On the negative side, you could say he's stubborn. On the positive, you can see he's deeply committed to his beliefs."

"The number one reason I decided to go vegan is I really care about the treatment of animals," says Andy.

"Andy pointed out that his caring about the treatment of animals is very similar to my caring about the treatment of women and domestic violence. He's right, of course," says Sarah. "It's primarily issues of power and domination and control."

Still, moms will be moms, and Sarah worries Andy's ardent approach to veganism, which has already ratcheted up your basic family struggle at home, will set him apart socially. "I don't want him to be an outlier. I want him to have a social life at school, at lunchtime, all those things."

Andy admits when he first told his friends, "They said, 'No, no, dude, that's like so weird.' It took a lot of explaining. I told them how much I cared about the treatment of animals. By now," he says, "all my friends and I have worked it out." Andy brings granola, dried fruit or other vegan snacks when he visits them. "But it didn't make a huge difference. It was kind of cool."

Meanwhile, at home, family meals and other social issues are works in progress. "I need to remember to take deep breaths," Sarah says. She also tries to remember "the number one role of being a parent is listening and trying to understand, to meet them where they're at."

How's that working out? "I don't think I'm going to become a vegan tomorrow, but I do think more carefully about what I buy and put into my body," says Sarah. She also thinks about parallels between Andy's advocacy and her own. "All forms of mistreatment, power, control, they're all integral. They all start to unravel when we start to be aware of the suffering of others."

Love and Kale

Here's a different kind of tofu scramble for Andy or anyone looking for a quick Middle Eastern meal with big nutrition. Serve with a whole grain pilaf, like millet or quinoa, or stuff into a pita.

The tofu needs to be pressed before cooking so it keeps its shape, but the actual preparation takes about 20 minutes and can all be done in one pan. If you want to double the recipe, do it in two batches or use two large saute pans to avoid crowding and crushing tofu.

1/2 pound extra firm tofu
1 pinch sea salt
1 teaspoon paprika, smoked or sweet
1-1/2 teaspoons coriander
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 onion, thinly sliced
1 15-ounce can organic diced tomatoes
1 big bunch kale, thick central stems removed and sliced into skinny bite-sized ribbons
juice of 1/2 lemon (a good teaspoon or so)
1 handful kalamata olives
1 handful cilantro, chopped
sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

Blot tofu dry, wrap in paper towels and set on plate. Top the tofu with another plate, not heavy enough to squash it but with enough weight to help tofu expel excess water. Leave it for 30 minutes to an hour.

Blot again -- tofu should have shed a lot of water. Then cut tofu into bite-sized cubes.

Mix together salt, paprika and coriander in a shallow bowl. Add tofu cubes and toss gently to coat with spices.

Heat olive oil in large saute pan over high heat. Make sure pan is really hot. A dash of the spice mix should sizzle in the oil. Add tofu and let it cook for a few minutes, so the bottom forms a crust. Stir occasionally to prevent sticking.

Turn tofu and add mince garlic and onion, moving everything around so there's no sticking. Reduce heat to medium and cook for 8 to 10 minutes.

Return heat to high and stir in the tomatoes. Stir only occasionally, letting the tomatoes cook down to a jammy consistency, about 5 minutes.

Then gently work in the kale by the handful, letting it wilt. Fold kale together with the tofu cubes and vegetables and let mixture heat through, about 3 minutes.

Add kalamatas, lemon juice and chopped cilantro. Gently mix again, season to taste and serve.

Serves 4.