The issue of vegan parenting is a hot one that never seems to disappear from mainstream media, or from the much more inside-baseball land of AR communities. Joining us today is activist and mother Robyn Moore, creator of RaisingVegKids.com, who is going to help make some sense out of how vegan parents can “navigate the not-so-vegan landscape” with grace and gusto. Even if you’re not a parent, this insightful article is full of useful advice for aunts, uncles, grandparents, and anyone with a special little one in their life.
Helping Vegan Parents Navigate the Not-So-Vegan Landscape
By Robyn Moore
I recently read an article that asked the question, “As a vegan, should you raise your child vegan?” To me, that question is absurd on many levels. As parents, we are responsible for making decisions for our kids based on our own sets of values and beliefs. Typically, we do not allow kids to make their own decisions when it comes to things that are dangerous to them physically or developmentally, or that we find morally abhorrent. So if we believe that eating animals and animal products is morally wrong (or unhealthy, or detrimental to the environment), then why would we let our kids engage in that behavior?
As a vegan parent, I encounter messages, and experience situations every day, that contradict what I’m trying to teach my daughter, Charlotte. Some of these (“milk is necessary for strong bones,” “you need meat for protein,” etc.) come directly from the industries whose livelihoods depend on our buying into them. Yet many others come from less obvious places: story time, gym class, music class, books, cartoons, the playground, the toys we buy. Our world revolves around the idea that animals are here for our personal use — this includes food, clothing, products, and entertainment — so being a vegan parent can sometimes feel like an uphill battle.
One example of this is story time at the library. The books that are chosen often center around “blissful” farm and zoo animals — only reinforcing society’s misperceptions about animals in confinement. Many of the books that Charlotte grabs from the shelves show animals in some sort of exploitive situation, such as a circus, or they include pictures of kids eating hot dogs or drinking milk. In music class, kids sing songs such as “Fried Ham,” “Baa Baa Black Sheep,” and “Old MacDonald Had a Farm.” In gym and other group settings, toddlers tend to share (or grab) one another’s snacks, so I have to be keep a watchful eye on Charlotte to make sure she doesn’t take somebody else’s goldfish or string cheese. And then, of course, there are the playground and play date conversations with other parents. Food always comes up, and, much to my dismay, I hear about what other kids are eating. More often than not, it’s chicken nuggets, or macaroni and cheese, always accompanied by a big glass of milk.
But if examples like these are what I’m up against, I can handle it. I will trade these minor inconveniences any day for the satisfaction of knowing that my husband and I are raising our child based on principles of integrity and compassion.
Still, I’m acutely aware that Charlotte is only a year and a half old. She’s still at the age where I can, for all intents and purposes, control what she eats and drinks, who she plays with, what books she reads. Charlotte is our only child, and, being in the (quickly growing!) vegan minority, we’re also learning as we go. Just as we adults evolve and change, so will Charlotte. That means that, 10 years from now when little Charlotte is in middle school, my challenges as a vegan parent raising a vegan child will radically shift. There will be a whole new set of joys and happiness that we’ll share, and, with that, a whole new set of questions. No doubt things will get more difficult as she becomes an autonomous person. Of course, my hope is that, as Charlotte grows, her values – respecting animals, and not exploiting them – will be so instilled in her, that even as she grows to be a teenager and an adult, she will carry her moral compass and live her life according to these ethics.
Every age has its own set of issues and growing pains, and as a mother of a vegan child, that is something I am looking forward to handling. But if we, as parents – and aunts, uncles, grandparents, and neighbors – trust that we are doing the right thing, then my hope is that everything else will fall into place. It is up to us as parents to be activists not only for the animals, but also for our own kids.
With that in mind, here are few tips to help vegan parents navigate the not-so vegan landscape.
- Read books and watch movies that affirm and reinforce vegan values. VegBooks lists over 500 titles.
- Visit an animal sanctuary. Exposing vegan kids to rescued farm animals is so important — it helps them make the connection between their cruelty-free lifestyle and the animals they are saving.
- Get together with local veg families so that your kids will have the opportunity to meet other like-minded kids, and you’ll get to meet other like-minded parents. If you live in the NYC area, join my meet-up group: NYC Vegetarian and Vegan Families. If a meet-up group like that doesn’t exist in your area, think about starting one.
- Show your kids the power of activism! If they feel strongly about a specific animal or issue, encourage them to join a protest, write a letter to a newspaper, have a vegan bake sale, hand out literature, or create an art project. This will empower them and teach them to be a voice for the voiceless.
- Search for websites and blogs about raising veg kids. Many of them, including my own, RaisingVegKids.com, offer resources, articles, and support for vegan families.
- Make holidays special. Instead of focusing on what kids can’t do or eat, make vegan versions of traditional dishes, and even crafts. For example, make a vegan gingerbread house or egg-free potato latkes, and color papier-mâché Easter eggs.
- Cook and bake delicious vegan recipes with your kids. Order the book, Vegan Lunchbox.
- When dining out at a non-vegan restaurant, look to the side dishes (instead of the meat- and dairy-heavy kid’s menu), where you’ll find healthy and yummy choices such as veggies, beans, rice, etc.
- Adopt a rescued farm animal (virtually). Farm Sanctuary will send you a picture of an animal of your choice with some fun details about him or her. Your kids can frame it and keep it in their room, and even visit their adopted animal at the sanctuary. They can even bring the picture to school and tell their classmates all about it, effectively spreading the message. Of course, if you have the space, adopt a real rescued farm animal whom kids can help care for and love.
- Be an active parent when it comes to birthday parties and school events. Find out what is being served, and if it’s not vegan, make or buy a similar vegan version so that your child will not feel left out. Make enough for the other kids, too, so that they can see first-hand how delicious compassion can taste.
- Show your kids that being vegan is fun! Make vegan pancakes on the weekend, or have a vegan pizza party on a school night. Make things like DIY vegan ice cream sundaes, or, on movie night, popcorn with vegan butter.
Embracing veganism is the most effective step a family can take to fight animal cruelty. It’s about teaching your kids to vote with their dollars by boycotting industries that exploit and harm animals. It’s about choosing a side — the animals’ side. Encourage your kids to be proud, confident, and courageous in their family’s decision to respect and value the lives of all others, including animals. Read books about brave people throughout history who were once viewed as being different and in the minority – such as those who worked for the abolition of slavery, for women’s suffrage, for civil rights – but were later viewed as heroes, who, despite challenges, spoke up for what was right.
As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said:
Cowardice asks the question, “Is it safe?” Expediency asks the question, “Is it politic?” Vanity asks the question, “Is it popular?” But conscience asks the question, “Is it right?” And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular; but one must take it because it is right.
Robyn Moore is a mom to Charlotte, whom she and her husband, Martin, are raising vegan. Robyn has her master’s degree in education. She is the creator of RaisingVegKids.com, the organizer of NYC Vegetarian and Vegan Families Meetup, and is a book reviewer for VegBooks. Robyn is an avid traveler who has taught English in Nepal, volunteered helping animals in Africa, and lived abroad in Switzerland.