Xander was a Fall 2014 Student Activist Winner!

xanderName: Alexander Miller (Xander)
School: DeMatha Catholic High School
Year in school: Senior (12th)
Major: Health sciences (prospective major)
Club name: The Food Club
Position with club: Founder/President

Why are you vegan? Why do you promote veganism?
I’m vegan to prevent disease onset, promote optimal health and happiness for myself and all those I meet, protect innocent animals who are being abused, and help preserve the environment. Every time I hear about a disease or death that could’ve been prevented through dietary intervention, I realize how important it is that I spread this message too all.

What are your hobbies outside of the veg club?
Jogging, biking, ice skating, reading, cooking, spending time in nature, socializing, watching Pretty Little Liars, and spending time with my church youth groups.

What are you studying in school and what do you want to do in the future as a career?
Besides the required curriculum in my high school, I’m mostly focusing on science classes like Chemistry and Biology which should prepare me for my intentions to study health sciences in college and, ultimately, become an osteopathic physician someday.

How did your family react to your veganism?
They’ve been quite supportive this past year or so; they’ve come to accept this aspect of me, and they are very flexible about allowing me to have slightly different meals. While they themselves are not vegan or even vegetarian, they at least share plenty of vegetarian meals with me.

How do your friends react to your veganism?
At this point, everyone in the school knows that I’m the healthy eater, the vegetarian; they think of it as almost a sort of superpower at times, or simply a thing that makes me unique. A few that are part of my Food Club have tried plenty of our vegan treats at our meetings, and many of the faculty are thoroughly interested in and supportive of my diet.

How is the vegan scene at your school?
Nearly nonexistent; partly because of me, there is at least awareness of the meaning of it, but I’m the only vegetarian (let alone vegan) that I know if in my small high school. But again, the community is quite accepting of it.

How long has your club been around?
Around one year.

What types of events and activities have you planned?
Pretty much the only things we’ve done thus far are after-school meetings for anyone who’d like to show up. We wanted to be sure we weren’t getting in anyone’s face about the message, and since we weren’t sure at first of the reception of the club, we made the meetings totally optional, free, and in the open. Some students and faculty showed up at such meetings to try delicious vegan food samples and discuss food, diet, and other such related topics.

What have been your biggest challenges?
Perhaps my biggest challenge, oddly enough, is finding the time to keep the club going. Since I’m the only vegan in the school and seemingly the only one interested in overseeing this club (besides my wonderful moderator), there’s a lot of pressure on me to initiate all club meetings, and so the club just doesn’t meet if I have too much going on. Fortunately, there are some consistent younger members who may be willing to help more with the club in the near future.

What has been your biggest mistake?
My biggest mistake was probably over-preparing for the club at the beginning. I figured that everyone like myself would be interested in learning about a vegan diet through hard facts, when in fact, the best way to attract members was through free food samples and informal discussion. It was a mistake in that it wasted a good deal of time.

What was your favorite activity or event?
Again, the only event we’ve had has been the meetings, but one meeting in particular stood out to me: we once brought in a magic bullet and made fruit/veggie smoothies which not only went over extremely well but also attracted perhaps more members than any other meeting.

What has been the club’s biggest success?
Probably the aforementioned club meeting with the Magic Bullet. I think we managed to have the strongest positive influence on the school in that meeting.

Who has been your biggest inspiration? Have any books or philosophies or people been important to you?
Regarding student activism, of course Chloe and many of the other VegYouth activists whose club updates I’ve read have been a major inspiration for me to work hard and make a difference. But also the plant-based doctors who started me on the path toward veganism–Dr. Pam Popper, Dr. T. Colin Campbell, Dr. Fuhrman–have been the foundation of my inspiration to work toward my goals.

Why is in-school activism important?
I know from my own research that it’s never too early to convert oneself to a healthful diet. Hence, reaching out to young people about the correct way to eat seems indispensable to my mission to spread the word about food. Even if no one converts to a vegan diet over night, at least someday, they may be more open to the idea.

Do you have any tips for youth who want to go vegetarian or vegan?
Find a support system (like VegYouth) and, if possible, a friend or two who can be with you every step of the way. Read books or subscribe to newsletters that further your purpose and remind you of your goals. Attempt also to recruit the people living with you; it can be quite a challenge to go veg when cheese curls, say, are sitting in the cupboard. Even if no one else converts fully with you, at least petition that junk foods be removed from the house. Once your taste buds change, such temptations will fall by the wayside, but in the meantime, junk foods will be the biggest obstacle to that.

What advice do you have for other youth activists?
Again, find a support group like VegYouth which can be there for you every step of the way. Sign up for the Mentoring Program to get a mentor who can give you personal feedback and support regarding your activism. And, find a moderator, trusted adult, or role model who can do the ‘adult’ tasks of the activism for you; my moderator has been so fantastic and supportive, even in my rough spots, despite her not being vegetarian herself. In many ways, the choice of a moderator can be one of the most important decisions on your part.