Mommy, Why Don’t We Eat Meat?
by Brenda Stokes
Virtually all parents raising vegan children have run into this question “Why are we vegan?” More correct, however, is the question, “Why are we different?”
Deciding to become vegan may have been a very personal choice. The enormous health benefits, environmental issues or a spiritual calling may have influenced your decision. Whatever your reasons are, rest assured they are legitimate. But relating them to a child can be quite difficult at times, especially when faced with multiple ages, needs and beliefs.
Individual Kids, Individual Answers
Explanations should vary with each child. Why not the standard, “eating veggies is good for you?” Because each child is individual and has unique needs. Dr. Debbie Glasser knows this challenge personally as a vegetarian, clinical psychologist and mother.
“Because I have kids ranging in age from toddler to teen, my explanations about why I’m a vegetarian vary greatly,” says Glasser. “With regard to my toddler, it’s very simple. He’s only two, so he eats what I serve him and doesn’t ask why [but] now that my daughter’s older, she’s asking more complex questions about the what’s and why’s of vegetarianism and making her own informed decisions. I have shared with her that one of my reasons for becoming a vegetarian is because I don’t want to eat animals…and [she’s] interested in learning more.”
Essentially, each parent must develop their own way of explaining veganism to their kids, placing the importance on what you say as well as how you say it. “A very sensitive child might be easily overwhelmed by a detailed explanation of where hamburgers come from,” says Glasser. So instead, offer positive examples of why you’re vegan, rather than horror stories.
A younger child may only require simple answers to their “why are we vegan” questions, such as:
- It’s healthier for you
- It’s respectful to the animals that we love
- It tastes good
This may even do for older children. It might be best to stick with simpler explanations unless your child probes for more information. Then, by all means, tell them your detailed reasons for being a vegan. As children progress into their teens, they tend to want to make such life choices for themselves, and providing your personal experiences as background information can help tremendously. Because of her open conversations with her daughter, Glasser says, “now the choice to be vegetarian comes from her, not me.”
The Health Factor
Dr. T. Colin Campbell, Emeritus of Nutritional Biochemistry at Cornell University suggests explaining the nutritional value of both plant and animal products. “Plants have the right kind of chemicals to keep people healthy,” says Campbell. Comparing and contrasting the healthiness of animal and plant-based products helps your child to understand the importance of knowing what they’re putting in their bodies, and how their food choices affect their health.
Likewise, you can explain how being vegan garners many health benefits, Campbell suggests, such as feeling better, less disease, increased athletic performance and more. Showing your child what veganism will do for them can be beneficial, because they will see themselves getting something out of it, which can be encouraging if they enjoyed eating animal-products previously.
The Peer Factor
Most of these questions arise when your child begins spending time at their friend’s homes, and begin to observe other’s eating habits. Questions like, “Why don’t we drink milk like Johnny’s family?” can be answered by being honest about the health hazards of its consumption.
“Milk is not necessary for good health” states Campbell, “in fact, for many children, acne, hyperactivity, other allergic reactions, and lactose intolerance all may be problems, to say nothing of the future risk of breast cancer and heart disease.”
There is no reason to scare your child into veganism, however, which is why acceptance of their food choices as they grow is vital to a healthy family environment. Your job as a parent is to present information about being vegan as requested, and when old enough, allow your children to make their own food decisions. But be sure to remind the little ones that it is okay to be different. Peer pressure may make them think they have to eat meat to fit in. Assure your child that standing up for what you believe in is honorable, but again, don’t force them. Sometimes, all a parent can do is step back and hope for the best.
The Yummy Factor
Above all else, stress how good vegan food tastes! Fresh veggies and grain products are not only good for you, but they are also virtually limitless in the number of creative dishes you can make.
Try explaining veganism in a hands-on way by cooking together. Spread a variety of foods out on the counter and talk about each one, its benefits or disadvantages, and why you do or don’t eat it. This is especially best for younger children, who will find the cooking activity fun and informative by examining so many types of foods. If they have questions, let them ask. As a parent, you have to set up the time and place for such discussions to happen, and once you’ve created the forum, your child can feel free to ask any of those “why” questions and expect a real answer from you.
Regardless of your personal reasons, be accepting of your child’s own beliefs as they grow up. If, despite their knowledge of the health hazards of animal products, they become an omnivore, don’t constantly remind them of their health or cruelty toward animals. Be loving and open to your child, and you’ll be guaranteed to receive the same respect and, more often than not, same outlook on veganism.