Generally speaking people seem to be relatively accepting of my veganism, even if they don’t feel that it’s a lifestyle that would suit them or be in line with their ethics. Veganism itself is making an ever increasing space for itself in mainstream culture, with every supermarket, coffee shop, Italian food chain, and cooking channel, sharing vegan products with pride. Even for the most outspoken meat eater, it’s difficult to avoid conversations within our current pop culture, that touch upon vegan and plant based lifestyles.
However, the waters navigated by vegan parents are often that bit murkier – and whilst I very rarely experience anyone challenging the choices that I make for myself, the fact that my 2 year old consumes no animal products appears that bit more controversial.
I’ll often have to read comments online which say something along the lines of:
“it’s fine if you want to be vegan/vegetarian but I don’t think it’s right to force it on your kids.”
“if it were me, I’d let my children decide for themselves when they’re old enough.”
I have to admit that these points confuse the hell out of me! I have lots of non-vegan friends, and many of them have children. What I’m about to type, I do so to highlight the ridiculous, nonsensical nature of the comments above – and not to cast genuine shade upon my non-vegan readers. That said – I could just as easily say:
“it’s fine if you want to eat the decomposing flesh of dead creatures, or any of their bodily fluids such as blood or breast milk. It’s all very well if you also want to eat the ovulatory matter of a bird that drops from it’s butt hole. I just don’t think it’s right to force your kids to eat that. If it were me, I would let my children decide for themselves when they’re old enough whether they feel Ok about eating those things or not, and until then, just give them plants.”
The point is that I’m no more forcing Quinn to be vegan than any one else is forcing their children to consume animal products. If you, as a parent, have deemed the consumption of meat, dairy and eggs as perfectly reasonable, then of course you’re not going to question the moral implication of feeding it to your kids. You presumably don’t eat humans (I kind of hope), and have decided that killing and eating other people is both morally objectionable, and also against the law, and therefore, you’d never kill a human and feed him to your babies. As a vegan, I’ve decided that killing and eating animals is morally objectionable too and I’d be breaking the law if I were to kill my neighbour’s cat – even more so if I served him to my toddler with beans. Once you stop seeing animals as something that you could eat, it makes absolutely zero sense to serve them up to your kids.
Of course, things are a lot more complicated when we’re talking about converting to veganism when you already have children who you’ve raised, up until now, on a non-vegan diet. I’ll save that for another day.
I now see babies eating animal products and it makes me feel deeply uncomfortable, and for that reason I do understand why others might be made to feel uncomfortable by my choices to omit those foods. This is less about judgement, and more about what has become normal for your family. Being a vegan parent generally sets you apart from the crowd; it’s different, it’s alien, it all seems a bit odd. And that’s A-OK, I’m as much at peace with being an odd alien as anyone should be – just be aware, in the most light hearted way possible, that whilst you think I’m a bit “out there” for raising my toddler to be vegan, I’m equally freaked out by your child’s hot dog!
One of the most eye opening books I read in the very early days of my vegan transition, and I recommend it to lots of people, vegan and non-vegan alike, in terms of being able to understand how vegans navigate our world, was “Mind if I order the cheeseburger? And other questions people ask vegans” by Sherry Colb. In it, she asks the reader (on the assumption that they’re an average American/British meat eater) to imagine going to a friends house, or a family gathering, to eat, and finding the table laid up with a dead dog as the centrepiece, and literally nobody else around the table thinking this was weird/upsetting/disgusting. Most people I know would have a pretty strong emotional response to a dead dog on a table – I know because I see how outraged they are by pet-animal abuse cases, or dog-meat festivals in Asia. In the book, Colb likens that feeling to how vegans feel when they have to sit around a table with a dead turkey as the centrepiece, seeing nothing but an animal who is no longer breathing – whilst everyone else appears to think this is totally normal. I should add here that whilst you would still be upset at the sight of the dead dog, even if someone told you she’d lived a happy life, the happiness of the turkey when it was alive does nothing to relieve vegan sadness.
As an entirely ethical & environmental vegan (I’m in this 100% for the animals and planet; any additional benefits are bonus material) – I haven’t touched upon the health aspects of a plant based diet. This is partly because I give my children Quorn Fishless Fingers, so I’m not sure I’m best placed to tell everyone how much longer we’re all going to live in this house, but also because the health benefits of veganism have never been a driving force for me. However, a lot of people come to veganism for initial health interests. They convert to a plant based diet because they acknowledge it as an optimal diet for humans (which it is, if we’re talking about a balanced, wholefood plant based diet – which is not the contents of my freezer). Speaking on behalf of these very healthy vegans – most of us feed our children better than we feed ourselves. We worry about whether they’re getting their five a day, we ration their sugar and salt intake, we bemoan the perils of consuming “processed shit” – but allow ourselves regular slip ups and Red Bulls. What you’re suggesting, when you question someone on a balanced plant based diet for feeding their children in the same way – is that they should make what they’d consider to be less healthy choices for their kids than they make for themselves. I’m not sure that anybody would cut foods out of their diet to improve their own wellbeing, but continue to feed these foods to their babies. It wouldn’t make much sense if they did…
I’m vegan because I place importance on kindness, compassion and peace. That’s not to say that non-vegans are unkind, cruel and violent, I’ve touched upon this before but I do believe that a lot of people have vegan ethics that don’t match their non-vegan lifestyle. However, it’s important for me to raise my children with the same qualities. To me, the consumption (and by that I don’t just mean the “eating of” but also wearing, and otherwise “using”) of animal products is not kind, it’s not compassionate, and it’s not peaceful – so it makes sense to leave them out of my parenting as much as I leave them out of the choices I make for myself.
Veganism may indeed be about projecting my ideals on to my children, but I see examples of people doing so every day.
“Don’t hit your sister, it’s not nice.”
“Don’t snatch, it’s rude.”
“Don’t kick the cat, it isn’t kind.”
“That’s a horrible thing to say to your brother.”
Are these not regular examples of adults forming their own ideas of right and wrong, and teaching their children to be similarly “good people”?
Quinn is a healthy, thriving two year old. She eats a varied diet of avocado with a side of avocado and her favourite toast topping is avocado. Veganism of course effects my parenting in other ways than simple what I put on the table (and she does eat a lot more than avocado don’t worry!) we don’t visit zoos or aquariums, circuses, or Christmas grottos with live reindeer. We don’t go for pony rides or bet on pig racing. I can’t buy Bobux shoes even though they’re ridiculously cute, and I also navigated babyhood without a pair of covetable Amy & Ivor moccasins. We cloth nappy mainly because vegan friendly disposable nappies are the most expensive on the market – and had breastfeeding not worked out we’d have been in a right pickle!
We’ll be vegan for life now, whether or not Quinn will “choose when she’s old enough” to abandon veganism is yet to be seen. But at least she won’t contribute to any animal suffering until she decides for herself that it’s something she’s OK with – and I feel pretty good about that.