*This post is by contributor Heidi Leabman, LSCW-R, SE
I am a psychotherapist, an ethical vegan for over 20 years, and a mom of a 13 year old girl. I have often reflected on how to raise my daughter vegan with compassion for animals while not imposing my beliefs or chosen lifestyle on her. I have also reflected on the struggles vegan children face in a non-vegan world. I have worked with vegan and non vegan parents of vegan children in my practice.
This blog post addresses issues for vegan and especially for non-vegan parents. Raising vegan children may pose a threat to parents who are not vegan and who are not yet educated about the health benefits of adopting a vegan diet, or of the atrocities inflicted on animals. They may also not be as connected as their children or teens to compassion for all living beings.
There is a growing body of research in support of well-planned vegan diets for kids of all ages. One of these is the 2016 position paper from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics which states that vegan diets “are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, adolescence, older adulthood, and for athletes.” Children raised vegan tend to grow up leaner, healthier, and with longer life expectancies, and they are more connected to their food than their omnivorous peers.
Raising healthy vegan children requires attention to a diet rich in a variety of whole foods with essential nutrients for growth and development. Getting children to eat and enjoy a variety of foods can be challenging. When it comes to a vegan diet it requires a familiarity with the key nutrient recommendations for each age group, planning well-balanced, and tasty meals, and snacks with assortment of plant-based foods. An adventurous spirit especially for non-vegan parents to find or prepare delicious and nutritious plant based foods is a key ingredient to raising vegan children. There is currently a plethora (and growing amount) of vegan foods in the markets which are delicious and nutritious. My hope is that even non vegan parents will enjoy vegan foods with their children. Creating a shared experience so their children can feel nurtured and supported in their veganism.
Social/emotional: Raising vegan kids can be challenging on the social level as well.
Vegan parents may fear that their child will reject veganism not simply because they want to eat non-vegan food. Navigating a social landscape with peers is difficult at any age. A child may not want to feel “different” than their peers, nor to live outside of the mainstream since eating together is a significant and enjoyable aspect of our social interactions throughout the life cycle.
Non vegan parents may additionally worry that their child is not getting the proper nutrition, and uneducated extended family and medical professionals exacerbate these fears. There may be teasing about his or her food or unsupportive and even cruel comments by parents or friends. Some families may exclude a child simply because they are unfamiliar with what to feed a vegan child.
Parents of vegan children will need to plan ahead, pack their own food, and explain their child’s veganism to others. For non vegan events such as birthday parties, school or family events there is planning that needs to occur for a vegan child to have an integrated experience of feeling part of the community while enjoying delicious vegan food such as vegan cupcakes, pizza or soy dogs. Bring a dish or two to these functions so that your child doesn’t feel deprived. Share vegan food with his or her friends so they can also get excited about using nutritional yeast on popcorn instead of butter. Make vegan pizza together or have an ice cream party with coconut ice cream sundaes and vegan toppings.
How a child’s veganism (whether a vegan or non-vegan parent) is ultimately accepted in the community and among his or her peers has much to do with how it is supported at home and then presented in the community. Certain parts of the country may be more of less supportive of veganism in general. So, it is important to try to find some connections to other vegan parents and children or even start a “meet up” or vegan family group. These are some of aspects of raising vegan children that parents need to prepare for in order for their child to be as comfortable in his or her community as possible.
Values: for vegan and non vegan parents: Raising vegan children is a much larger landscape than simply not consuming animals for food.
Several years ago I was reading a very popular children’s book to my then nine year old daughter where the main character is a pig. Her mother was serving her bacon for breakfast which would make her a cannibal. Pigs do not eat other pigs. A child’s world is constructed of constant anthropomorphizing of animals. For example, almost every child’s book has “happy” animals including farm animal characters. This conditioning leads children to a collective numbness to all non-human animals, and to their plight. Vegan children witness most of their friends and family members consuming animals for food, wearing animals for clothes and shoes without any knowledge of their suffering.
Many children from non-vegan homes decide on their own to become vegan because they do not want to eat animals or fish. They have made the connection and understand there is cruelty involved in the use of animals for human consumption. It is important for non-vegan parents to understand that your child has developed a radical way of perceiving our world where animals are no longer objectified for food, clothing, and overall human use. Your child does not want to cause them harm by eating or using them. This compassion can have such far reaching effects not just for your child but for the health and well being of the planet.
My daughter’s friend is an example of this. She became vegan in a non-vegan home. Her mother is very supportive, and is in the process herself of becoming vegan. At a recent school function “Emma” attempted to spread compassion to our school community. She set up a fund raising table to sell home made vegan brownies and vegan bath scrub to raise money for one of our local animal shelters. Her mother and one of her middle school teachers participated to show their support and encouragement.
For vegan parents it’s about ethical choices that we want to impart to our children without pressuring them, scaring them with stories of atrocity or strongly attempting to influence them with our own beliefs. We want to instill the values that we so cherish to our children. We strive to support them in understanding that the lives of animals mean no less than that of a human life and that animals deserve to be treated with respect and dignity and not to be exploited in so many ways by humans.
Possibilities for vegan and non vegan parents:
Model compassion toward all including your child if this is the choice that they’ve come to.
Be sensitive when you explain your reasons for not eating, wearing or even visiting animals in cages or attending the circus. Even if you are not vegan there are ways to align with your child to model compassion for all living beings. Such as treating your beloved cats and dogs with dignity and respect and letting him or her know that all animals deserve the same respect.
Answer your children’s questions as honestly and openly as you can. For non vegan parents educating yourself about veganism including animal abuse and suffering will help your child feel supported. You will be far more supportive if you understand the horrors that animals endure.
Try to visit and experience animals in their natural habitat (such as farm animals) as much as possible so your child experiences a more alive connection to them.
Allow your child to make their own choices, and respect their choices because we all want to be respected for our choices. Remember whether a vegan or non vegan parent of a vegan child that your child is maturing to be compassionate, caring and kind toward all beings.
Raising Vegan Children in a Non-Vegan World: A Complete Guide for Parents
PETA – has many book listed on their website about animal abuse including those about factory “farming”
*This post is by contributor Heidi Leabman, LSCW-R, SE
Heidi Leabman, LSCW-R, SE a is a somatic and integrative psychotherapist in private practice outside of New York City. She is a trauma specialist and EFT couples therapist. Heidi is an ethical vegan for over 20 years, an animal rights advocate including rescue work.
For more information contact Heidi at: Heidileabman.com