Raising a Little Vegan
“Veganism is imposing your beliefs on your kid(s).”
I don’t have enough fingers and toes to count the number of times I’ve been asked why I’m forcing my kid to be vegan. As parents, we make decisions for our children. This is an important part of raising tiny human beings, unless you’re not opposed to chocolate-coated everything and ice-cream for breakfast. I assume if kids could have their way, they’d choose ice-cream. I mean, even as an adult, I’ve thought about it. Ironically, when I asked my seven-year-old what he would want for breakfast if he could have anything at all, he chose cereal.
If making decisions for our children is imposing, then yes, I impose my beliefs, but don’t all parents do this, even those on a meat and dairy based, Standard American Diet (SAD)? We impose how much television they watch, what activities they are a part of, what schools they attend, what social events they go to, and which groups they belong to. We impose all day long, and helping to guide their food choices is no different.
Webster’s definition of “imposing” says “to establish or apply by authority.” That sounds like parenting to me. We influence our children by guiding their choices from our own experience and understanding. In other words, we raise them.
“Let children decide if they want to eat meat.”
After all, we’ve given our children all the necessary information for them to make a conscious decision. We’ve told them that male baby chicks are ground up alive, because they can’t lay eggs. We’ve told them about the baby cows taken from their mothers, so we can have their milk in our cereal. We’ve told our children about the pigs, who have the intelligence to solve puzzles, not wanting to die for a bacon sandwich, right? No. There’s a reason we don’t tell our children the truth about who’s on their plate. Children are born with a compassionate mind and would not choose for themselves to eat the bodies of tortured, abused, and murdered animals. But, for those kids who have already “decided” to eat the flesh of animals, it becomes normalized and they stop questioning why, because they have been reassured that it’s acceptable. Instead of choosing a path free from unnecessary suffering, we take a bite of convenient, blissful ignorance. We hide the truth and feed our children the dead bodies of animals we enthusiastically cheer on in cartoons and books, but vegans are the confusing ones.
The harsh realities of the flesh industry are enough to traumatize an adult let alone an impressionable child. By logic, we must protect their minds from the horrific truth, so we simply re-write the script. To comfort our children’s natural quest for understanding the world around them, we explain that animals were made for us and are healthy and necessary to eat. In reality, the exact opposite is true. Animals are not here for us; they are here with us. They are also not healthy to consume.
(Enter the vast number of thriving vegans who have not dropped dead from protein deficiency.)
“My doctor tells me milk gives us strong bones.”
Sure, if you’re a baby cow, then that would be true. Not to shame doctors, but the system has become unraveled and twisted into a paradox of healing with that which causes harm. Doctors are given little nutrition education, but have become the number one guide to what your family puts on their plate. They prescribe cancer-causing, diabetes-inducing, artery constricting, muscle inflaming diets that they can later treat with a pill, and when that doesn’t work, they try invasive and expensive surgery. Follow the pills, follow the surgeries, follow the money, find the corruption. If apples made doctors rich, we’d all be eating more fruit. Plant-based diets have been proven to treat and reverse some of the leading causes of death in our country: heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure.
So, why are we feeding our children carcinogens and foods that should have poison labels on them? It’s simple, if you break it down. These foods have pictures of smiling animals and cartoon characters to distract from the truth. Words like “humane”, “grass-fed”, “cage-free” and many more, are mechanisms put in place as marketing tactics to appeal to your compassionate nature. If labels had words like “stunned with bolt gun 10% of the time”, “still stabbed in the throat at the end” or “bigger cages” we would probably spend more time in the produce section. Parents rely on food companies to help decipher which foods are the best for their families, but unfortunately there is little to no transparency when it involves the meat and dairy industry. Their profits depend on misleading advertisements. There’s a reason your carton of cow’s milk displays pictures of “happy” cows. I can assure you that dairy cows are not happy and do not choose to go through the horrors of being impregnated, having their babies taken away, being hooked up to machines, and then being killed and sold for meat.
There’s also the fact that children are being targeted in every aisle at the grocery store. Aren’t they the ones doing the shopping, after all? Little fingers point to sugary cereals and animal or cartoon character shaped cookies. Companies know this and use it to their advantage. Yes, parents do have the end say, but have you never been swayed by your children in the grocery store? I have, plenty of times. This is where helping to guide their choices to more healthier options becomes important. Does my son still gawk over the incredibly massive wall of cereal? Sure, he does. I mean have you noticed that the “healthy” cereals dwindle to a single section, where the other ones take up the majority of the isle? How do you even find healthy ones? With luck, we navigate towards our healthier options like granola cereals or rice crispy cereals. I’m not here to debate over cereal, I’m here to express the value in being honest about foods. My son understands that some foods are not as healthy, so we avoid them, and this leads to less “battles” at the grocery store. We should be honest with our children about food, because it will help nurture a healthier relationship with food for them in the future.
There is no need to expose them to graphic images or give them a tour around a slaughterhouse. I wouldn’t show my seven-year-old that kind of content. Maybe if he were older, but it’s ultimately the parent’s choice whether or not their kids are comfortable, ready, or willing to see that. There are more gentle ways to teach a child that they don’t need to consume animals, wear animals, or visit exploited animals for entertainment. Me and my little vegan talk about veganism here and there, but it’s become our “norm” now, so we don’t need to delve into books about it. It’s simple in our home. If it’s an animal or comes from an animal, it’s not for us. My son, like most children at this age, has an interest in animals, so we watch documentaries like “Planet Earth”, “Blue Planet”, or a recent favorite, “March of the Penguins,” where we sometimes make our own commentary for fun. Documentaries literally teach him that animals have intelligence, and a purpose, and are truly remarkable in their own way.
Something a tad more awe-inspiring than seeing animals on a screen is visiting and spending time with them at an animal sanctuary. The animals we meet at sanctuaries are survivors of the meat and dairy industry. They all have a story and are individuals with personalities. If you seriously question the intelligence of animals, please consider hanging out with some sanctuary animals. The more time you spend with them it becomes very clear. Even if you are not vegan, spending time petting these beings fills you with a child-like innocence and joy. They remind us of our true compassionate nature and prove that they are individuals and want to be loved, too.
Educating our children with honesty and compassion doesn’t have to be complicated. The fool-proof way is to lead by example, live with compassion for all beings, and live in harmony with those beliefs. Without realizing, most parents teach their children to respect all life, but still feed them the bodies of abused, murdered animals. The same species that they teach their children to respect. Teaching your children to have subjective compassion will only add to the disconnect we are fighting to piece back together.
“Out of sight, out of mind, but not without consequence.”
Navigating school and other social events as a parent can be overwhelming enough, but as a vegan parent in a not-so-vegan world, it can feel like you are the odd one out. Even with the booming of plant-based foods and fast-food chains coming out with meat alternatives, it can still feel like a slow climb up the vegan ladder. This isn’t in any way to diminish those changes, because all change is a step forward.
I’m sure, in time, more plant-based options will be available in schools, but for now, where the only vegan option at school is a PB&J, we choose to pack our lunches. With packing lunches, I get to “show off” vegan food. And yes, I’m proud to admit that. If we all look back to our childhood days, we were always checking out what the other kids packed for lunch. As little elementary-aged children, they are processing thoughts and feelings even at lunch, so exposing them to vegan food is just part of their day-to-day. Sending my kid to lunch with tofu and vegan cheeze crackers breaks the stigmas that vegan food is “gross”, “weird” or simply “not possible”. Being there with his plant-based lunch is enough to dim the confusion about veganism. When his friends ask him what he’s eating, he tells them. If they ask him if he eats meat, he says “no, we don’t eat animals.” Simple. No need to complicate things at that age. Children are sponges, and are smarter than we give them credit for, and may not care that much about what their friend is eating. In any way, it’s a plus, because I get to provide a healthy meal and he gets to feel confident about his lunches.
When we are invited to birthday parties, we bring our own cupcakes and some to share. If you think it’s more uncomfortable to bring your cupcakes or food to another person’s party than starving or awkwardly sitting there without a piece of cake, then maybe just don’t go. I felt uncomfortable at first, but quickly got over it after all the cupcakes disappeared and my child felt included in the celebration. We also bring our vegan-friendly meals to holiday gatherings and, like the cupcakes, my potatoes with earth balance and veggie gravy got a lot of attention one year. These little moments are celebrations for me. We don’t go to preach about our Tofurky, but to be living proof that vegans can celebrate and have their cake, too.
Listening to negative responses from the people around you isn’t always easy to deal with, but in time you learn how to keep moving forward with a positive mind. Sometimes you’re not going to get through to the people around you, and that’s okay. Focus on yourself and if people want to follow in your inspiration, they will come to you with questions. That’s when you can fill in the gaps for them. You will never make someone change, but what you can do is inspire them to want to change. The rest is up to them.
The countless times I’ve been told that I was forcing my beliefs on my child could fill books. Unfortunately, I experienced a lot of negative responses from my family regarding my lifestyle, a more compassionate one, to add. They continue to remain with their preconceived ideas and judgments. I even heard “I was abusive, because of my refusal to give my son meat and dairy.” Rationally, that one is clearly ridiculous considering what I feed him consists of whole foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and grains, all foods rich with calcium, iron, magnesium, protein, omegas, and more. Suddenly my family had become nutritionists without a single ounce of education or fact-based information to back up their claims. They would have questioned me even if I had facts, research, and blood work to prove we were healthy and happy without flesh on our plates. Dealing with their absurd mentality was a challenge, but I learned so much from them. Most importantly, I’ve learned to have confidence in my parenting.
If I have chosen a lifestyle that puts compassion in the forefront and is beneficial for my health and the planet, why wouldn’t I want to instill that in the little human being I am responsible for? And yes, there is proof for all the health benefits and environmental impact. I’ve done my research, read books, blogs, watched videos, and listened to the countless vegans thriving on this lifestyle. I’ve been so inspired by the many vegan parents out there raising the future generation of vegans. Thanks to us, a brighter future is possible!
My vegan journey is unique, but not without flaws or mistakes. I’m not afraid to admit I’m human! Perfection isn’t what this is about, and neither is parenting. Becoming vegan started with food, but has helped me grow in so many other ways. Naturally, with a desire to be more conscious and aware of what impact my choices have, I’ve learned more ways to do less harm. Whether it’s learning to compost, or grab my reusable bags, or to be more kind to myself, veganism gives me hope that I can make a difference. Even if it’s only in my own life, which is more than enough because we never know what impact we have on others. I’ve had my moments of doubt or serious despair of how to survive with living in a not-so-vegan world. There’s a quote from a movie that reminds me of how powerful we are in unity and restores my confidence. This quote is from one scene in “A Bug’s Life”. (If you haven’t seen it, sorry for the spoilers.)
“It was just one ant… ”
“You let one ant stand up to us then they ALL might stand up to us… “ – Hopper