Gone Vegan

Lindsay Hutton discovers the politics and pragmatics behind a meat and dairy-free diet.

If there is any justice in the world, I know my children will be obstinate little demons. Any munchkin sharing 50% of my genetic material is likely to give me at least a few years of headaches. Heck, if they manage to inherit even a pinch of my intractable nature, I’m pretty sure he or she is likely to be up for a career as a CEO for a oil and gas corporation and running a barbecue joint on the side. Just to drive me bananas. It would only be fair to my parents.

The more I learn about the environmental and health benefits of a vegan diet, the more inclined I am to lean toward raising my kids vegan. The Canadian, American and British dietetic associations have stated that, when keeping the known pitfalls of a bulky diet and B12 deficiencies, vegan children can be as healthy as vigourous as their nonveggie comrades. From a health perspective, we’re good to go. However, it’s the social dynamics of raising a vegan child in a nonvegan culture that piqued my interest. 

How do we translate the choice of a vegan lifestyle to a child using concepts they understand? How does a little one navigate through birthday parties, pizza days at school and after-school snacks at a playmate’s home? How do parents manage their little darlings exploring their autonomy and wanting to try nonvegan food? 

In the course of this project, I have amassed a truckload of vegan allies and contacts that have decided, at some point, to procreate. They’re a friendly bunch, and shared some of their tips and experiences on raising thriving, vegan bratlings. 

Say What? How Your Kids Deal

Most parents indicated that their children didn’t start to ask questions about the difference between the food they ate and nonvegans until the age of three or so. “My kids have been raised with the simple notion that animals are our friends, and that Mummy and Daddy choose not to eat them,” says Nancy, a postal worker in Winnipeg and doting mother of two vegan children aged 4 and 6. “So far so good. I’ve heard them explain as much to their playmates and they haven’t gotten too much of a negative reaction using that line of reasoning.” 

Micah, a tattoo artist in New York City and mother of a 13-year-old daughter, agrees: “Kids have a lot of dietary restrictions nowadays – every other kid is lactose intolerant or allergic to wheat or kosher; my kid just tells her friends what she can eat and what she doesn’t. She’s a budding environmentalist and loves to chat about how we use too many resources to keep all these animals alive just so we can eat them when we don’t have to.”

Kids are chatty little things, however, and sometimes playground vegan prognosticating can make for some trouble. “I’ve had at least three phone calls from pissed-off parents telling me that because my five-year-old told her friends that eating meat was mean to animals, and now their kids don’t want to eat it or are questioning why they do,” says Darren, an artist in Vancouver. “What can I say? Can I tell them to tell their kid it’s not ‘mean’ to kill animals? How are they gonna explain that one?”

The Almighty Doggie Bag

Pragmatically, being a vegan in this culture can be a little tricky. As an adult, I can pick and choose what I can and cannot eat. The rules of the game are slightly different for kids for the simple reason that they depend on adults to provide their food, and when that adult isn’t vegan, the game changes a little. 

“Birthday parties can be a bit stressful,” says Nancy. “When they were small, I would simply pack some vegan cupcakes or cookies for them to share. The kids didn’t seem to mind too much; some of the parents seemed a bit miffed, though.” Most of the parents I spoke to agreed with this tip; many just packed fabulous vegan treats to share with their friends without any problems. 

“My kids are teenagers, and as they got a bit older there was some awkwardness explaining why they were eating something else on hot dog day at school or passed on birthday cake,” says Donna, the mother of a fifteen and seventeen-year-old. “Once they hit twelve or so, kids start to pick up on difference and it can get a bit vicious. They dealt with it okay, I think; they’re tough kids and they believe in the choices we’ve made as a family. Besides, vegetarianism and veganism is starting to get cool with that age group!”

'Up yours, Mummy!' When Your Kid Strays from the Program

What happens when your vegan kid wants to venture outside of the vegan diet? “I remember I brought my daughter to a party when she was four,” says Micah. “She was looking at me and started to reach for a tray of deli meats. She was obviously testing me.” Most parents suggested just delivering a short iteration of their family’s philosophy: “I just quietly told her, ‘Honey, you can try it, but we don’t eat meat, remember? Animals should be our friends.’ She thought about it for a second and took her hand away.” 

“At the end of the day, I can’t really control if my boys want to try a hamburger or a milkshake,” says Donna. “Who knows? Maybe they have. I would never discipline them for it; I want them to make their own choices. The best I can do is to be as open to discussion as I can to two moody teenaged boys, and try my best to keep them happy and healthy.”

For resources on vegetarian parenting, check out these sites:

Toronto Vegetarian Association 

VegSource.Com

VegFamily: The Magazine for Vegan Family Living

Next on Gone Vegan: The sunshine is working its mojo and the barbecue season is beckoning. My first instalment in the Vegan Grill Guide!