By Deborah Glick
Eggs, milk, and meat. Those are the “usual” on grocery lists. But not for sophomore Emily Bakaljian. Emily – who has had over 20 pets – lives a vegan lifestyle that she is very proud of.
It all started with Oprah. Among the countless number of families that tuned into ABC at four o’ clock was the Bakaljians. Emily, thirteen years old at the time, and her mom, Lydia, viewed Oprah talk about the vegan diet and the cruelty of animal factory farms. The next week, Lydia bought Emily a PETA magazine that expressed the benefits of being a vegan. It also included various celebrities who had chosen this lifestyle. “I decided to be a vegetarian because I love animals so much,” Emily said.
Two months later, however, Emily discovered that cows and chickens were poorly mistreated due to the high demand for their products. As a result, her disgust only grew from there. Emily baked her last meal before becoming vegan: a delicious batch of brownies. “They were so good,” she said.
Emily’s devotion to animals has led her to reconstruct her daily diet. For breakfast, Emily usually has oatmeal, sometimes with nuts. Later for lunch, she has vegetable stir-fry with whole wheat bread. Once dinner comes around, Emily has lentils or strawberry and raspberry salad. “I don’t really like pasta,” she said.
“Initially, I started with looking up recipes and cooking a lot of tofu,” said Lydia. Over time, Lydia stopped liking these substitutes and started creating dishes on her own. “I became a lot more creative. It’s almost like second nature to me.” Although preparing two separate dishes for each meal of the day is time-consuming, Emily’s are quick. “I’m basically a little chef,” Lydia said as she prepared a vegan meal for Emily on the stove.
Emily also cooks. She makes plenty of meals that take only a few minutes, as opposed to “PETA’s meals that may take an hour.” Over the summer, Emily cooked every day. Now, Lydia and Emily split the amount of cooking, both making many new dishes.
Lydia was “very proud” when Emily announced her decision but was worried about her health. “I was a little concerned, but not as much as everyone else. I knew she would get protein,” she said.
For Emily, “health was not a concern.” She acquires protein from beans and nuts. However, Emily has to take iron pills.
“At first, I would torture my brother when he was eating meat and make him feel bad, but I got in trouble for that,” Emily said. “I just try to ignore it when people around me eat foods that I can’t. If I think about it too much, I get upset over the animals.”
Emily’s vegan choice has made her whole family healthier. Lydia bought a book and decided to become a vegetarian at one point… but she shortly gave it up because of her love of fried chicken.
“I will probably continue to be a vegan for the rest of my life. I’ll stop when I’m pregnant, and I won’t raise my kids vegan,” Emily said.
“I think Emily being vegan shows that she is strong willed and loves animals. She just really loves animals,” Lydia said.
Want to cook a vegan meal?? Try one of Emily’s favorites from PETA.org: spaghetti and marinara with soy meatballs!
- Soy meatballs
- Prepared spaghetti
- 1 Tbsp. tomato paste
- 1 tsp. fresh lemon juice
- 2 14-oz. cans diced tomatoes
- ½ onion, diced
- ½ tsp. sugar
- 1 ½ Tbsp. olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 1/3 cup water
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1 tsp. pepper
- 1 tsp. dried basil
- Use a medium saucepan. Sauté the onions and garlic in the olive oil over medium heat until onions are translucent.
- Then, add the tomatoes, water, salt, pepper, sugar, and basil. After bringing it to the simmer, pour the mix into a food processor or blender.
- Pulse 4 to 5 times and be sure to leave small chunks of tomato.
- Pour back into the saucepan and cook over medium heat.
- Next, add the tomato paste, lemon juice, and soy meatballs.
- Simmer on low heat for 20-30 minutes, continuously stirring. (Adjust seasoning if necessary)
- Serve over prepared spaghetti or pasta of your choice.
A vegan variety – Emily eats carrots, rice, and applesauce for a balanced lunch at school.
Photo by Nicholas Steves