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Such thing as a free vegan lunch

Club at Newport Harbor High School offers students free veggie burgers and soy nuggets.

January 19, 2007|By Michael Miller

NEWPORT BEACH — The vegans of Newport Harbor High School had a message to impart at noon on Wednesday — and they weren't going to let the weather silence it.

As a chilly wind blew and dark clouds hovered, the school's Compassion in Action Club set up tables outside the cafeteria and urged students to pick up free veggie burgers and soy nuggets. The rain started to pour halfway through lunch, but the group continued to hand out food and pamphlets to anyone who stopped by.

"Take it, take it, take it," said Tanya Petrovna, head chef of the Native Foods restaurant chain, as she doled out nuggets from a hot pan. "You get a whole free plate."

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Last year, the Compassion in Action Club, led by English teacher Karen Coyne, formed on campus to encourage respect for animal and human rights. The vegan lunch on Wednesday was the group's first major public event. As debuts go, it went swimmingly — by the end of lunch, all the veggie burgers and nearly all the nuggets were eaten.

"A lot of people say they hate vegans," said club President Rachel Lee, 16, a junior. "I ask them why, and they have no reason. They think it's unhealthy, and that's not true."

The club got some high-profile help in distributing soy to the masses. The Veg Advantage, a network of vegan professionals, sent Petrovna and New York-trained chef Lex Townes to prepare the meal. The Newport-Mesa Unified School District secured their visit through a promotional campaign by the Veg Advantage last year, in which the first 10 districts to respond got free vegan food for a day.

Veganism, unlike vegetarianism, involves swearing off of animal-related foods altogether — including dairy products, eggs and even honey. Using soy, tofu and other natural ingredients, chefs often try to duplicate the taste of meat. Many of the students who milled around the rain-streaked tables at Newport Harbor said they had turned to veganism for both moral and health reasons.

"I don't like eating flesh," explained sophomore Chase Hoyt, 16, who said he planned to join the Compassion in Action Club this week.

His classmate, Ryan Harper, said he had been a vegan for four months. He objected to the treatment of animals, but it took him a while to get used to the new diet.

"I was a vegetarian for a while, so if you ease yourself into it, it's not bad," Ryan, 16, said.

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