Mother: Joanna Olsen, 28; Father: Jason Phillips, 34; Leila Olsen-Phillips, 5; Leif Olsen-Phillips, 3 (next month). Joanna recently started Clean By Nature All-Natural Custom Cleaning Service. This is a vegan/environmentally friendly business that custom makes cleaning products from all organic ingredients including essential oils. On top of being a sole-proprietor, Joanna is a Rehabilitation Therapist who works in two Acquired Brain Injury Programs. Jason is in the process of obtaining his PhD in English at Wilfrid Laurier University in Guelph, Ontario and loves skateboarding. Leila is a devoted horse lover who has been riding horses since she was four. Leif is known as the happiest little man around and loves dragons, dinky cars, and swimming.
Why did your family go vegan?
Joanna went vegan thanks to educating herself about the dairy industry. That was enough for her to instantly become vegan. The rest of the family were lacto-ovo, but also became aware of the reasons why mommy went vegan…the seed was planted.
Is everyone in your family vegan and if not, what’s that like?
We (Joanna and Jason) believe that being vegan is a choice that our children should make on their own. It is not difficult for the kids to have a grilled cheese sandwich once in a while. The kids consume very little that is not vegan. We are confident as parents that our kids will choose to be vegan at their own pace.
Were your kids raised vegan from the start or did your family transition into being vegan?
Joanna was a lacto-ovo vegetarian since she was 18 and went vegan after the birth of Leif just about 3 years ago. Jason was lacto-ovo vegetarian for 6 years and recently has chosen to be vegan. Leila and Leif have been lacto-ovo vegetarian since in the womb, but since Mommy and Daddy do all the cooking and shopping they are just about vegan themselves.
Are your extended family and friends supportive of your lifestyle? If you recently transitioned to veganism, how did they react to your change in lifestyle?
We like to believe that the majority of our extended family were concerned about the choice to be vegan because they didn’t fully understand it. We recently moved to Southern Ontario so we live far away from most of our extended family. It isn’t frustrating occasionally getting the usual questions when we visit. We have very supportive family members as well that plan vegan meals when we visit and go out of their way to educate themselves on veganism.
Do you know other vegan families in the area?
We have met vegetarian families, but no vegans in the area. All the friends we have met here in Hamilton go totally out of their way and are so thoughtful when we have dinner together.
How do you handle holidays and birthday parties?
We are not traditional people who think a “Tofu Turkey” must be cooked. We change our meals for occasions depending on what we feel like having. Birthday parties are usually pretty easy, but we always make sure our kids have a snack before they go anywhere and we almost always bring or send something in case there is nothing available. When we have birthday parties for our kids we include lacto-ovo vegetarian choices for everyone.
Do you have any favorite recipes or cookbooks?
How it All Vegan is Joanna’s favorite cookbook because it has great kid-friendly ideas, but we love Indian and Lebanese food as well.
Please describe any social or emotional issues you’ve had to deal with in raising vegan kids.
We chose a small private Montessori School for our children to attend so we have been very lucky to have an eclectic mix of people around us. The most difficult issue for being parents is constantly defending our choice to raise veg kids in our meat eating world. We feel a lot of people judge only because they are not educated on vegetarianism. The protein question gets really annoying after a while.
Have you met any resistance (or ignorance) when dealing with doctors and/or teachers?
We had the most dedicated and supportive pediatrician when we lived in Northern Ontario who went out of his way to provide articles and advice about raising our kids veg. When we moved, unfortunately our new pediatrician’s first response when telling him we are veg was, “What’s the matter with meat?” We since have been looking for a more supportive Doctor. We are thinking about switching to a Naturopath or Homeopath. The teachers at our children’s school are innately supportive.
Do you have any words of advice to offer other vegan families or families in the process of transitioning to veganism?
Just ignore the negative comments. You will here them always, and getting your back up all the time isn’t worth the stress. We always say when asked why we are veg that it is “for many reasons.” It is nice to subtly educate other people on veganism but no one likes a preacher. Also, bring a yummy vegan dish to functions.