What If Your Kids Don’t Want to Be Vegan When They Grow Up?
by Melanie Wilson
As vegetarian parents it seems that nearly everyone feels they have license to ask us detailed questions about our lifestyles. It can be tiring, especially when the tone is antagonistic or someone wishes to draw us into a debate. But I find that, for the most part, I don’t mind answering these queries. As long as the inquisitor is respectful and truly interested in what I have to say, I enjoy talking about our diet and our way of life.
One of the questions I am most often asked (after numerous inquiries about vegan nutrition and why we don’t eat meat or eggs or drink milk) is what I will do when/if my daughters want to eat non-vegan foods later in life. First, there is an assumption that they will want to, and my questioners are truly concerned about whether or not I will restrict my children. I will admit that many vegetarian children do decide to experiment with other foods at some time. The reality is that some even give up being vegetarian at all for a time, even for life. However, there is a number who do not, who choose to maintain a vegetarian diet throughout their lives.
My personal choice on this issue is to allow my girls the space to make this decision on their own-after a certain age. I have not yet determined exactly when that will be. Rather, I will wait and decide when the time is right. Having never parented a child above the ago of five, I can only guess when that will be. Regardless, the issue remains that people expect me to answer this question in a certain way, and they are visibly gratified when they hear my answer. Their concern lies in the possibility that I might be one of “those” parents who forces their children to be vegan against their will.
What those people don’t realize is that many vegetarian kids enjoy – even take pride in – being vegetarian. My almost five-year-old wouldn’t eat meat if you promised it would make her into a Power Puff Girl. She won’t even eat a store-bought veggie burger because of its meat-like texture, so I have no doubt about how she would respond faced with offers of “real” meat, no forcing involved. But even when I do limit her against her will (which, I am proud to announce, I have done many times), I do not view this as unfair. I believe it is my job as a parent to help my child learn to make healthy decisions, and sometimes that means saying no whether she likes it or not.
I explain to these people that our veganism is akin to a religion to us. No, there is no vegan church. But our beliefs are deeply spiritual, and we share our values with our children in much the same way that other parents weave their moral and spiritual beliefs into their families’ lives on a daily basis. Our goal is to give our children a strong foundation, one from which to build their own strong belief systems and to decide how to conduct their own lives. We feed their bodies and nourish their souls with lessons of respect and love for all living beings, our earth, and their sacred bodies. Then we will send them out into the world and pray that our lessons have taken root. We fervently hope that our kids will remain vegetarian, but we have also come to terms with the possibility that they may choose another path. We’ve accepted that, and we pledge to love and accept them no matter where their journey takes them. After all, isn’t that what parenting is all about, whether you are vegan or not?