Raising Kids to be Vegan for Life
by Loraine Speck
When my first child was born I braced myself for the shrieking screams of horror when family, friends and strangers discovered my intention to raise this baby boy as a vegan. They never came. What I was confronted with though was the question, “Can he choose to eat meat when he’s older?” followed by the statement “I bet he can’t wait to have his first Big Mac!” and ending with an under-the-breath “na-na-na-na-na” This repeatedly played-out scene upset me more than the screaming might have and it’s not because I felt like my veganism was being attacked, but that my child’s was.
Being a vegan is everything to me. It directs more than what I eat or what I wear or what venues I patron, but who I am. And it’s like this for me because I know – I truly know the price of hamburger and I can no more eat one than I can kill the cow myself. Now this is all well and good for me, but what about this child? How can I make being a vegan as sacred for him as it is for me? How do show him the meaning of veganism without scaring him or scarring him? The answers that I’ve found lie in taking baby steps.
Baby Step #1 – Talk the Talk
And talk it a lot! Start when your child is small, and don’t be afraid to use the “v” word. Make the conversations age appropriate and keep them light – being a vegan is about life. One game I play with my children that gets a lot of giggles is the “Do We Eat?” game. I ask them “Do we eat caterpillars?” or “Do we eat butterflies?” or “Do we eat apples?” always sneaking in a “Do we eat cows?” or chickens, pigs, etc. so that they see the absurdity of eating any animal. My children also knew from a young age that cow’s milk was for baby cows and honey for bees. Be specific here. I once told my breast-feeding toddler that a chocolate bar on grocery store shelf had milk in it. He went wild with excitement! Oops. Sorry, baby!
Baby Step #2 – Walk the Walk
All the way to the nearest animal sanctuary (or a location that doesn’t have any animal attractions) for your next vacation. Every May we take our children to Farm Sanctuary’s New York Shelter. In my opinion this is the perfect vegan destination. The children get to build one-on-one relationships with the creatures they spend their days defending.
Every June when my son’s elementary school classmates go to an end-of-the-year trip to our local zoo, we go to Canada’s Wonderland and have a blast riding roller coasters and eating a picnic lunch. Showing your child the multitude of ways that fun can be found at no one’s expense will positively affect they way they handle other situations in life that will ask them to choose between doing what’s popular and what’s fair.
Similarly, choose to adopt a companion from a shelter and not purchase one from a store. You don’t need me to tell you why this kinder.
Baby Step #3 – If She Looks Like a Vegan and She Walks Like a Vegan Then Introduce Your Child to This Vegan!
Isolation is no fun at any age and there is strength in numbers. This may be more difficult for some as vegans in their Moo Shoes aren’t always easy to spot in a crowd. I’m very lucky in that I have a lot of vegan friends and family and so my kids aren’t always the only vegans in the room. Still, whenever I find a new vegan I introduce my child to them. This is actually mutually beneficial as my child learns that vegans are everywhere and our newly discovered vegan friend sees first-hand a strong life-long vegan child (which always inspires).
Baby Step #4 – If You’re Vegan and You Know It Than show it!
I used to be a closet vegan, doing my best to hide what was my favourite thing about me. I did this because I didn’t feel society accepted veganism and, honestly, I wanted to be liked. I finally realized one day that other people weren’t going to be excited about vegans if I, a vegan, wasn’t. Now my car models some subtle “Go Vegan” paraphernalia and on my mailbox is the declaration: “Vegan House” (which confuses the heck out of delivery people because my last name starts with an “S”). The best gift I could give my little vegans was to show them how proud their mother was to be one and if someone were to choose to avoid a friendship with me because of it, then it was their loss because I am pretty nice person who would do anything for a friend.
Baby Step #5 – Make it Their Own
When my son was in junior kindergarten and was the unsuspecting participant of a “Got Milk?” class presentation I was livid. Knowing he’d receive the same session of misinformation the following year in senior kindergarten, I envisioned myself sending him in a “Got Puss?” t-shirt and armed with some well-rehearsed questions like “What happens to the male calves born to dairy cows?”. When I calmed down I experienced the hard realization that what I was planning for my child was as insidious as what the Dairy Council was doing.
So instead I’m sticking with my gentle path of showing my child the joys of being vegan and watching him make it his own. And he is. I see it in the respectful way he treats our many rescued cats (some of them who are not too friendly) and how easily he passes over the hot dogs and birthday cake at the classmate birthday party for the vegan alternatives I’ve packed for him. He can even be the vegan police, asking suspiciously “Are you sure this is vegan?” whenever I bring home a new (very vegan) food product from the grocery store.
I am now the blessed mother of two boys. The oldest is 6 and the forever baby is 2 1/2. A lot can happen on the way to adulthood, especially during the turbulent teen years. However, I am more than confident that on their journey to finding out who they are and on which path they will travel the one thing they won’t have to question is to be or not to be a vegan. They know of the real price of a Big Mac and they will no more be able to eat one than they will be able to turn their backs on any kind of suffering – fur or no fur.