Hi, my name is Erin Ersoy. I live in New York, United States. I am a survivor of stage IV neuroblastoma, a type of aggressive cancer. I grew up with a plant-based uncle, who introduced me to veganism. He didn’t really tell me about veganism, but told me that he was vegan for the animals, environment, and his health. He sometimes would come home with vegan food and desserts like vegan tiramisu, pizza, pasta, brownies, cookies, and more! One day, I really wondered why he was vegan. I thought to myself “why is it bad to drink milk? How does it hurt animals?” So that’s when I searched “veganism.” I read some articles (mostly easy ones because I was 10 at the time) and watched some videos. I was shocked to see what they do to the animals just to make dairy products. I knew that meat was an animal that was killed, but I didn’t know that the animals also suffer at the farms. It was right then and there that I wanted to go vegan.
I talked to my parents about it, but they weren’t as supportive about it as I hoped. They said we could discuss it when I am 11. So I marked on my calendar for my birthday to “ask parents to go vegan.” On my birthday, I asked my parents if I could go vegan. However, they said no. Then we decided that I could convince them to let me go vegetarian. So I created a PowerPoint presentation and wrote all about vegetarianism and how it affects your health, the environment, and the animals. My parents were supportive for the most part, but they told me that I would need to convince my pediatric oncologist to let me go vegetarian. So I sent my oncologist the link to the PowerPoint. At my next check-up with my oncologist, she right away said how she loved my PowerPoint! In fact, she said that she shared it with all the other doctors at the cancer center! She agreed that adopting a vegetarian diet might be best for me, but I will have to wait until I’m older to ask her about veganism.
As soon as I got home, we all agreed for me to start off with a 1 week vegetarian diet trial. So I either cooked for myself for that week, or I found great recipes for my parents to cook. After that week was over, I continued to be vegetarian! I am currently 13 years old (turning 14) and I am still vegetarian!
Shortly after I went vegetarian, I noticed that I have been eating pizza for lunch at school every day. That was one of the very few menu items that didn’t have meat in them. Then I thought “what would a vegan eat? What on our menu is vegan?” And that’s when I realized that there is nothing on the menu that is vegan. The bagels are made with egg, the salads come with cheese, and everything else has cheese. So I wrote a letter to my principal, and wrote about why the school should serve more vegan options. About 2 weeks later, I received a letter back requesting a meeting with me. When we met, she was very supportive and wanted to help me get vegan food in the school! Around 3 weeks after the meeting, I noticed flyers all around the school cafeteria advertising Meatless Monday’s and a sign in the cafeteria advertising veggie burgers, both implemented in our school district! I was so happy to finally see progress! Later that day, I was called to the main office. I was given a flyer for Meatless Monday’s and on it was a small note by my principal. It said “this is because of YOU, Erin! You rock!” My principal wanted me to meet with our director of food service of the school district. However, I never got to meet with her.
I was introduced with Amie Hamilton from the Coalition for Healthy School Food. Amie invited me to speak at the Coalition for Healthy School Food gala that year! I gave my speech in front of about 100 people. I was so happy to see how many people were inspired by me to go vegan!
In the beginning of 7th grade, our school cafeteria was being redone. For a couple months, we were being served cold lunches like salad and sandwiches. And to make matters worse, there were NO vegan options. Like before, the salads had cheese or chicken in them, and all the sandwiches has cheese in them. At the time, we were also getting a new principal since our previous principal had left. I did understand that since we were getting a new principal, he might not know that our school was serving veggie burgers. So I waited until December to write a letter to our new principal, just to give him some time to adjust to the position. After a month of not receiving a letter or email back from him, I decided to go straight to the school district’s superintendent. I emailed her about the issue. I was so happy that she responded just 3 days after I emailed her! She wrote about how great it is that I am trying to do this, and how she would like to work together to make it happen. She put together a group email which had my principal, assistant superintendents, the director of food service, and more! We are still working on getting more vegan options in our school district.
I have held 4 protests since I was 11. My first protest was at McDonalds. I wanted to spread awareness of how unhealthy and cruel meat is. I also wanted to urge McDonald’s to get vegan options on the menu. When I was holding my first protest, I didn’t know what a protest was like. I was relying on videos and articles to tell me how a protest runs. At the time, I had never even attended a protest. At my first protest, the only people that attended was my dad, my 2 best friends, one more person who found out about it, and me. However, at my 2nd protest, it was me and 13 people!