Updated April 2019
Are you a vegan teen who’s worried about what you could eat at summer camp? This vegan teen summer camp guide may surprise you!
Vegan teens have two basic choices exist when it comes to summer camps: (1) See if you can obtain vegan food accommodations at a regular nonvegan summer camp, or (2) Attend a known vegan or vegan-friendly summer camp.
Option #1: Getting Vegan Food Accommodations at Regular Summer Camp
I have found many times that regular, non-vegan summer camp staff are surprisingly vegan-friendly. Frankly, this surprised me, because I attended camps in Oklahoma, Arkansas and Texas!
Here’s some steps for maximizing success, based on my personal experience.
Before you go
- Call or email to ask if the camp offers vegan options. (They will probably answer no, but you’re showing demand for vegan options by asking!)
- If they say no, then explain that you’re vegan and ask if you could speak with the kitchen staff about possible meal planning accommodations before enrolling in camp.
- Don’t expect staff to fully cater to you. Instead, ask the kitchen staff member you speak with if you can bring vegan alternatives for meals when no vegan option would normally be available. Most camps plan menus in advance, so staff can tell you when a vegan alternative isn’t available. For example, if they aren’t planning to have soy or nut milk, ask if the kitchen would store a box of it in their fridge for you. If they’re planning on burgers one night, ask if they could they cook a veggie burger for you if you bring some frozen ones. Yes, bringing your own food adds to the cost of the camp for you, but you can consider it a charitable donation to the animals. You have an opportunity to show that vegan teenagers are healthy and eat yummy food. You can also show that eating vegan can mean just making a few simple food substitutions.
While you’re there
- Express appreciation to the kitchen staff, because camps don’t usually pay them very well. You’re asking them to make extra efforts that they wouldn’t otherwise make.
- Be polite and express gratitude, but don’t hold back telling the kitchen staff what you need. They deal with other special requests, too, like camper allergies. Your needs are also important. You may not die from eating nonvegan food like a camper with a nut allergy could die from eating nuts, but animals are suffering and dying to make nonvegan foods.
- Don’t expect anyone else to turn vegan because of you, but know that you’re planting seeds in others’ minds. You’re making veganism a little more normal and showing that animal-based foods aren’t necessary. Some people will become more open to the possibility of going vegan in the future because of your example. Some need to be exposed to veganism several times before deciding to go vegan. You can provide one of those times!
After camp is over
- When camp is over, thank the camp director(s) for allowing their kitchen staff to accommodate your diet. Compliment any ways the kitchen staff went the extra mile. At three different nonvegan camps I attended, the kitchen staff surprised me by making special foods for me. I thanked the camp directors in hopes they would give the kitchen staff a pat on the back. I also wanted the directors to feel open to accommodating more vegan campers in the future.
Of course, I cannot guarantee a 100% positive response.
Only one of the six nonvegan camps I attended expressed unfriendliness about accommodating my vegan diet. The director of an Audubon Society camp talked about how their animal products are “humanely raised,” and she asked my mom if I would feel bad not eating like all the other kids! Nonetheless, their kitchen staff were wonderful in providing me with the vegan alternatives I brought. They even surprised me with a special vegan treat for Sunday brunch that they made just for me! The lesson I learned is that the more a camp has already invested in believing their food options are ethical, the more resistant they might be when someone doesn’t want to eat their food.
Option #2: Attend A Known Vegan or Vegan-Friendly Summer Camp
Of course, attending a known vegan or vegan-friendly summer camp is even easier than arranging accommodation at a nonvegan camp.
- YEA Camp (US)—Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp is an all-vegan summer camp for teens with locations in Massachusetts, California and New York. YEA’s mission is to run “life-changing, ridiculously fun and inspiring camps across the country for progressive teens who want to do something about the problems they see in our world.” YEA serves only vegan food, but you don’t have to be vegan to attend. If you are vegan, though, rest assured that you will have vegan company during your stay! Check out their website here, and be sure to see their sample menu and food pictures here, at the bottom of their page. Campers ages 12-17 can attend (although possibly as young as 11, if you get special approval). Teens ages 18-19 can attend YEA’s new adult camp.
- Camp Kindness (US)—Located at New York’s Catskill Animal Sanctuary, Camp Kindness is a day camp program that teaches kids how to care for rescued farmed animals. Campers can spend a week —or more!— hanging out with animals (from the biggest cows to the smallest chickens), playing games, and creating and eating delicious vegan food. They have an amazing summer adventure and come away empowered to change the world. The first summer session is for children and teens ages 8-14. Then, they have a two-week leadership camp for kids 10-16, and a final summer session for 8-14 year olds.
- Camp V (US)—Located in a beautiful New Mexico mountain setting, Camp V is an all vegan overnight summer camp for children ages 9-15. “It is centered on promoting kinder choices towards the planet, the animals and themselves.”
- Vegan Surf Camp (France)—Vegan Surf Camp is not a teenager-only camp, and underaged people have to be accompanied by an adult. However, a camp spokesperson states that many teenagers are at the camp and love the atmosphere.
The Vegetarian Resource Group (VRG) lists many camps as vegetarian and/or veg-friendly (here). A new vegan-friendly camp since VRG published their guide in 2011 is Stomping Ground, ” an overnight camp dedicated to empathy, self-direction, and possibility located in the Catskill Mountains outside of Binghamton, New York.” Two others are Gold Arrow Camp, a traditional summer camp for boys and girls ages 6-14 located on Huntington Lake in California and Mountain Camp, a traditional co-ed summer resident camp near Lake Tahoe for campers entering 2nd-12th grades.
Keep in mind that you should always check with any camp you’re considering in order to make sure they still offer vegan-friendly meals and snacks.