The year is 1987. Deep in her Grateful Dead lunchbox, 9-year-old Summer Joy Phoenix, a pigtailed nugget of fourth-grade granola, packs a patchouli-scented menu of intrigue.

As the rest of her San Diego elementary-school set demolishes cardboard pizza and mechanized dairy droppings, the fifth and final member of the Phoenix clan privately sups on such alien victuals as "soy" and "tempeh." Her inscrutable diet is topped off with a taste of social isolation: After all, this is a girl who's spent her entire life, until now, home-schooled by her parents, John and Heart, on the family's Florida commune. As she interacts for the first time with pencil-packing munchkin carnivores, the world is reduced to a collision of digestive philosophies.

"I remember kids being like, 'Blue corn chips?' 'Tofu salad?'" explains Phoenix, amber eyes flaming like sparklers. "That's when I went 'Ohhh...not everybody's like we are.' It was six months before I knew that most people ate meat."

Fourteen years later, Summer Phoenix is still anti-flesh (she's even converted boyfriend Casey Affleck: "It helps with his mucus, she says with a giggle). But nowadays she compensates for the meat-free Slim Goodbody act by talking through the butt end of an American Spirit.

And she's still not quite like everybody else. The bloodline she shares with brothers Joaquin and River could have afforded her a casting-call-free pass, but Summer has instead taken her lumps in such bruised-plum roles as the "Fuck-You Girl" in The Faculty and "Stoned Girl's Friend" in Can't Hardly Wait.

"I wanted to make my own way," she says, tucking a sprig of hair behind her ear. Besides, she adds, "there's not some big huge door that opens up because you have a certain last name. It's almost like you have to prove yourself even more."