The Littlest Kitten Drinks Cows’ Milk

My toddler (AKA Little Baker) is enamoured by a small cardboard book called The Littlest Kitten. The book contains an orange finger puppet head for the main character, a kitten. The Littlest Kitten.

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The Littlest Kitten; the biggest head.

I think the finger puppet head is the aspect that draws his interest. Also, the book is toddler-sized: perfect for tiny fingers. He likes to cuddle the book while breastfeeding, and he laughs when I animate the finger puppet. It is a very short book, only eight pages.

Despite its brevity, I have not read the book in its entirety to him. When I attempt to read it, Little Baker just keeps turning the pages, back and forth. He isn’t interested in the story at the moment.

This week, we were snuggled on the bed, and I was preparing to read it to him. He was turning the pages, back and forth. My daughter approached us: ‘Oh, I don’t like that book’, she announced. ‘I don’t now why he likes it so much’.

Naturally, a book that appeals to a toddler is unlikely to hold the interest of a 9 year old. Clearly, my daughter is not in the target age group* for this book, so I wasn’t surprised that she didn’t like it. But she seemed particularly passionate in her dislike.

What don’t you like about it? 

The floodgates opened:

‘It’s ridiculous’! she proclaimed. ‘It’s called the Littlest Kitten, but look at his head. It’s huge. He looks creepy’.

Just to drive home the point, she concluded with a dose of hyperbole: ‘It’s the creepiest kitten in history’!

Despite her distaste for the book about the ‘creepiest kitten in history’, she sat down with us as Little Baker and I flicked through the book.

I focused on pointing to the animals and naming them, while I read the text to myself.

I can now wholeheartedly assert that I’m not a big fan of the book either.

The reason? Page 4:

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The creepiest kitten in history drinks cows’ milk. That may explain the enlarged head!

‘The cow barn is our favorite place.

Sometimes I get milk on my face

“Drink your breakfast” Mom meows.

We love milk from happy cows’.

The mother cat implores her kittens to drink their breakfast – a bowl of cow’s milk.

This is ludicrous! Why are they drinking the milk of a cow, and not the milk of their own mother?

Cows’ milk – as a health beverage, and as a source of calcium – is so entrenched in our culture. Even the animals in our storybooks drink it.

Of course, the cow is a happy cow. She is happy that the kittens are drinking her milk. I suppose she is happy about her enslavement too.

Children are exposed to the myth of the ‘happy cow’ in storybooks, children’s TV shows, TV advertisements, and in the classroom. Cows are portrayed frequently as willing participants; benevolent givers of their milk. Calves are invisible in the happy cow narrative.

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A ‘happy cow’

On a positive note, this book inspired a conversation with my daughter about the ‘happy cow’ myth. Specifically, cows aren’t happy about ‘giving’ their milk after all; they’d rather have their babies with them.

Furthermore, I do not normalise cows’ milk consumption to my children. When Little Baker is a little older, I will tell him that kittens drink their mother’s milk, and that cows make milk for their own babies.

I could get rid of the book by throwing it in the recycling bin (after decapitating the puppet head) or depositing it in a charity bin. But, Little Baker loves it. I don’t have the heart to make it disappear.

Besides, this type of book is a good educational tool. Parents can use the ‘non-vegan’ content to inspire discussion with their children about vegan values. We can promote empathy and compassion in our children by encouraging them to think about situations from the perspectives of the animal characters.

Also, we can talk to our children about biological norms – calves drink cows’ milk, human babies drink human milk, and kittens – even kittens with big heads – drink cats’ milk. 

***

* Oddly, the book’s back cover states: ‘Ages 5+’. Perhaps the puppet head is regarded as a choking hazard. The publisher is dreaming; the story is not engaging enough for kids aged 5 and over.

What is your child’s current favourite book? Does it promote vegan values?

Ally 

{Vegan Children} An interview with Ginny Messina, Registered Dietitian (AKA The Vegan R.D)

Are vegetarian kids less robust?

A fortnight ago, someone entered the above question into a search engine before navigating to Made of Stars. 

I have not written a post that discusses the ‘robustness’ of vegetarian or vegan children. I did, however, write an article called Raising Children as Vegan: A Healthy Alternative a couple of years ago.

The term ‘robust’ means ‘full of health and strength; vigorous’.

Perhaps this individual was seeking to determine whether vegetarian children are smaller and weaker than their peers. Maybe they were trying to find information about the well being of vegetarian children, and whether they are as healthy as their non-vegetarian counterparts.

What is the collective noun for a group of vegan children?

What is the collective noun for a group of vegan children?

Recently, I received an email from a fellow blogger and reader of Made of Stars, Nat

In the email, Nat provided a link to the blog post of a decade-long vegan blogger and raw food advocate who had recently abandoned veganism. One of the blogger’s main motivations for embracing animal based foods again was, apparently, her toddler daughter. More specifically, she expressed concern that a vegan diet was not providing adequate nutrition for her growing daughter.

Although this blogger’s story partly inspired my current blog post, I don’t feel comfortable commenting publicly on other people’s reasons or motivations for abandoning veganism. Especially people I have never met!

I prefer to keep my comments directed at my motivations for embracing veganism and raising vegan children.

Readers of this blog know that my husband and I, both long-term vegans, are raising vegan children. Mat and I have chosen veganism for our family for ethical reasons.

Robust is my middle name!

Robust is my middle name!

We also believe that children thrive on a healthy vegan diet. We have seen it with our own eyes.  But don’t just take my word for it…..

Are vegan diets healthy for kids? 

Personal stories and anecdotes can be interesting and inspirational. However, I encourage parents and parents-to-be to do their own research. Peer-reviewed studies are a good starting point.

In relation to vegan diets for children, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics states:

‘…appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.

Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and for athletes’.

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An article in Pediatrics in Review, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, discusses vegan diets for children:

‘Multiple experts have concluded independently that vegan diets can be followed safely by infants and children without compromise of nutrition or growth and with some notable health benefits’.

In order to discuss an ‘appropriately planned’ vegan diet, and determine the possible ‘notable health benefits’, I contacted Ginny Messina, registered dietitian and ethical vegan.

I was thrilled when Ginny agreed to answer my questions!

You can read more about Ginny, and her educational and professional experience, on her blog the Vegan RD.

I started by asking Ginny if there was any validity to the claim that vegan diets are unsafe for children.

Ginny: No, there is no validity to this claim. We know that vegan diets can meet the nutrient needs of children, and see that children eating healthy vegan diets grow and develop well. Children have no requirements for compounds like cholesterol or preformed vitamin A.
***
Ally: Are there any particular vitamins or minerals that parents of vegan children should particularly focus on? For example, ones that are challenging to obtain on a vegan diet? How can parents ensure that their children receive sufficient amounts?
Ginny: Since most people are used to getting calcium from dairy foods, parents of vegan children need to identify good sources of this nutrient. While leafy greens like collards and kale are good sources, these are foods that aren’t always popular with children.
Fortified plant milks and juices, calcium-set tofu, and almond butter are all good kid-friendly calcium sources, though.

Parents also need to make sure that children are getting plenty of zinc, by including whole grain bread and seeds in menus.

And while iron is found in a wide range of plant foods, it’s important for children to have a good source of vitamin C at as many meals and snacks as possible to enhance iron absorption.

***

Ally: What is the best way to ensure sufficient intake of Omega 3’s? Is it best for parents to provide their children with whole food versions (eg. flaxseeds) or oils (flaxseed oil), or a combination? Should parents give their children a DHA supplement, or rely on conversion from ALA?

Ginny: It’s important for children to have a good source of the essential omega-3 fat ALA, which is found in walnuts, walnut oil, flaxseed, flax oil, or canola oil.
Kids need only a very tiny amount of these foods to meet needs–just a teaspoon or so–so it really doesn’t matter whether they get it from whole foods or from oil.
Whether or not children need a supplement of the other type of omega-3, DHA, is something we don’t know. To be on the safe side, it’s fine for kids to have a small supplement–around 100 mg per day.
***
Ally: Are there any circumstances in which you would recommend vitamin and/or mineral supplements – in addition to B12 -for vegan children?
Ginny: Many vegan (and non-vegan) children need a supplement of vitamin D unless they are getting adequate sun exposure year round.
And, if children don’t have a little bit of iodized salt on their food, they many need a small iodine supplement.
***
Ally: Are there any particular health benefits to raising children as vegan?
Ginny: Since vegans tend to have lower blood pressures, cholesterol levels and body weights, we can assume that children raised on vegan diets will reap some of those benefits.
***
Ally: Thank you Ginny. I really appreciate you taking the time to answer my questions.
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Veganism is more than a diet
Of course, for ethical vegans, our food choices are a daily manifestation of a deeply held belief system. It is one way of reducing suffering, of taking a stance against violence and exploitation.
It is only natural that we seek to impart our vegan values to our precious children.
While teaching our children about compassion and respect for animals – and choosing not to serve animals on our dinner plates – we can rest assured that our children’s growing bodies are receiving adequate nourishment from plant foods.
***
What is your favourite resource for information about vegan nutrition? Please share the link (or book title) in the comment section. 
I have a much-loved copy of Becoming Vegan by Brenda Davis, R.D  & Vesanto Melina, M.S, R.D . 
Ally

Why I Chose Homebirth

Something a little bit different today!

I am excited to announce that I am guest contributor at Discordia Zine. I write about my decision to birth Little Baker at home.

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Why I Chose Homebirth

In the pre-dawn darkness of Valentine’s Day last year, I birthed my precious son into the warm water of a birthing pool.

My arms and heart embraced him. In my euphoria, I uttered words of love and welcome. Hello beautiful. Welcome home….

To read the rest, click here.

A big thank you to Bek for publishing my post.

{Vegan Parenting} Raising Tiny Vegans

This is an abbreviated version of the first article I wrote about raising vegan children.

The original was published in the Spring 2007 edition of Vegan Voice magazine. At the time, my eldest child was just 3 1/2 years old. My son, 10 months.

***

While pregnant with my daughter, our first child, I eagerly searched the web and local library for information about vegan nutrition during pregnancy and lactation. I regularly referred to a couple of books on our bookshelf – ‘Becoming Vegan’ by Davis & Melina, and ‘Pregnancy, Children and the Vegan Diet’ by Michael Klaper – and I felt satisfied that I could meet the nutritional needs of my unborn baby and my expanding body.

Like many first-time pregnant women, I read constantly; books about birth, breastfeeding, foetal development, bonding and all manner of related topics.

But there was one topic I could not find enough information about in order to satisfy my curiosity – raising vegan children. I had accumulated sufficient information and resources about the nutritional aspects of veganism but I discovered a dearth of information about the social and practical aspects of raising vegan children.

I really felt that we were going against the grain. What would our lives be like as we strived to raise a vegan child? Were we tackling an impossible – or at the very least, difficult – undertaking?

I used the only reference point I knew: my own non-vegan childhood. I reflected on the countless birthday parties that I had attended, including those at fast food restaurants. I thought about Easter egg hunts with school friends, ice creams from the Ice Cream Van, lamington drives, leather ballet shoes, dissecting cows hearts in the name of ‘science’, and ‘sausage sizzle’ school fundraisers. It was enough to overwhelm me.

How on earth could we raise a vegan child against that backdrop of childhood experiences? I consoled myself with the fact that times had changed. Vegans and vegetarians were no longer as rare as during my childhood. I only first encountered the word ‘vegan’ when I was about 16 years old, and don’t recall having any childhood friends who were vegetarians or vegans.

While pregnant, I purchased a book titled Raising Vegan Children in a Non-Vegan World: A Complete Guide for Parents’ by Erin Pavlina, an American vegan mum. I enthusiastically read it from cover to cover, the only book that I could find on the topic.

While reading the section on birthday parties, I experienced a sense of anxiety and dread when I contemplated the number of parties that my daughter would be invited to during her childhood. How would she feel when I gave her a piece of home-made cake while all the other kids enjoyed the birthday cake? Would I be depriving her?

I had other concerns. How much baking of substitute birthday cakes would I end up doing over the course of my daughter’s childhood? Would I just end up dreading the arrival of each party invitation? How would I deal with my baking fatigue?

Early in my pregnancy I asked myself: ‘Could my partner and I –both vegans- raise vegetarian children’? Would it be OK for our (future) children to consume foods containing dairy and eggs at birthday parties and other ‘special’ events? Wouldn’t it make our life easier? and more importantly, wouldn’t it make their lives easier? The prospect never sat comfortably with me, however.

As someone who strives to avoid causing suffering to sentient beings and as an advocate of the health benefits of a vegan diet, I could not ignore this knowledge, and my convictions, when it came to raising our child.

I longed for information about Australian vegan families and their experiences. We knew a vegan couple with a 2 year old daughter, who were expecting their second child around the time that my daughter was due. I was excited at the prospect of our vegan babies growing into childhood friends. Sadly, the family moved interstate when my daughter was only weeks old.

What about the claim that raising vegan children is irresponsible, or even, unethical? Should vegans who are about to embark on parenthood even give this a moment’s thought?

I never considered that our intention to raise vegan children was in any way irresponsible or unethical. There are people who believe that it is and, unfortunately, some of them gain extensive media coverage.

Writing in The New York Times recently, author Nina Planck states: ‘I was once a vegan. But well before I became pregnant, I concluded that a vegan pregnancy was irresponsible. You cannot create and nourish a robust baby merely on foods from plants’.

Those vegan parents who experience exertion as they lift and carry their robust babies certainly beg to differ.

Planck is of the opinion that babies are ‘built from protein, calcium, cholesterol and fish oil’ and, therefore, believes that a vegan diet is ‘dangerous’ for breast-fed and weaned babies, and children.

A couple of years prior, another commentator attracted a great deal of media attention. Professor Lindsay Allen (of the US Agricultural Research Service, no less!) was quoted as saying ‘There’s absolutely no question that it’s unethical for parents to bring up their children as strict vegans’. She is also quoted as stating: ‘…when women avoid all animal foods, their babies are born small, they grow very slowly and they are developmentally retarded, possibly permanently’. In the same article, the UK Vegan Society dismisses Allen’s claims.

In ‘The Ethics of What We Eat’, Singer and Mason address the question, ‘Is It Unethical to Raise Vegan Children?’ Interestingly, Mason and Singer interviewed Professor Linsdsay Allen in order to understand why she was ‘rejecting well-accepted medical and scientific views’. Allen claimed that the reporter who interviewed and quoted her, left off the caveat: ‘unless they (vegan parents) take great care to know what they’re doing’. Allen told Singer and Mason that she was ‘not against veganism’, and the authors conclude that Allen does not dispute that ‘it is safe to be a vegan while pregnant and to raise your children as vegans’.

Professor Allen’s and Nina Planck’s comments have no bearing on how I choose to live my life and their opinions matter little to me. However, their anti-vegan comments received wide spread media coverage, and it is likely that they had the effect of negatively influencing some people’s beliefs about veganism.

A pregnant woman (who may already be feeling emotionally vulnerable) may feel anxious and distressed to read that vegan diets ‘could’ cause her to give birth to a small, slow growing and developmentally delayed baby.

So what do other commentators say about the ethics of vegan diets for children?

Singer and Mason cite the American Academy of Pediatrics as stating that ‘vegan diets can promote normal infant growth’. The American Dietetic Association* also maintains that a ‘well-planned’ vegan diet is ‘appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including during pregnancy, lactation, infancy and childhood. Many would argue that a vegan diet is more than ‘appropriate’, and is in fact superior to the Standard Australian/American Diet (SAD).

Today, our vegan family consists of my partner and me, our spirited 3 1/2 year old daughter (who, incidentally, was a very robust baby) and our jovial 10 month old son.

Now that we are actually raising vegan children and not just reading about it, the thing that I crave most is a peer group of other Mums who I can debrief to, laugh with, support and commiserate with.

I would also love for my daughter to attend a vegan party that isn’t her own (or her brother’s).

My daughter has a vegan substitute – a homemade muffin or slice of cake – in lieu of birthday cake whenever she attends a children’s party. I’ve learned that the substitute has to be appealing, so that my daughter will be happy to ‘sacrifice’ the birthday cake, but not be too appealing or it may look more enticing to the other children than the birthday cake!

We were invited to a birthday party recently, and the birthday girl’s Mum had baked a vegan birthday cake. My daughter and I were the only vegans invited, and I appreciated the gesture immensely.

Our close friends are supportive and very accommodating of our veganism, which is the best you can hope for when you aren’t surrounded by vegan families.

When my daughter recently asked ‘Why do Nanny and Poppy eat eggs?’, I replied: ‘Some people like to eat eggs’. She answered ‘You have to tell them not to eat animals and eggs’. She said it with conviction, and would not let the issue drop until I promised that I would tell her grandparents not to eat animals and eggs anymore.

On another occasion, my daughter asked me why people eat eggs. I replied: ‘some people eat them because they like them and they don’t know that the chickens don’t like it’. She looked directly in to my eyes, and said ‘You have to tell them Mummy, OK? You have to tell people every day that the chickens don’t like it’. Oh, how it nearly broke my heart to hear it simplified in this way by an innocent, caring child. If only it was as simple as that.

There are times when I worry that she will feel different, or excluded, as she munches on her homemade cake. I am concerned about how she will assimilate the knowledge that some people she loves consume animals and animal products.

Sometimes at social gatherings with non-vegans, I feel like a hawk, watching my daughter and ensuring that she doesn’t reach for, or isn’t given, a cube of cheese or a chicken flavoured chip.

At a recent birthday party, the plate of vegie sausages had already been devoured when my daughter reached for a meat sausage. I grabbed it out of her tiny hand so quickly that the other parents must have thought I was a lunatic.

I sometimes dread the arrival of birthday party invitations.

Then, at other times, it all seems so simple: we don’t eat animals and we don’t consume products that are the result of animal suffering.

I sincerely hope that my children will always decide to be vegans. Naturally, if they decide, when they are older, to turn their backs on veganism, I will accept their decision. Like any other life decision that my children make – career path, political beliefs, etc. – my role as a parent is to support them, even if my own beliefs differ. I can help to lay the foundations of respect and concern for our fellow beings, to be a role model and to educate them.

Ultimately, my children will – and should – have autonomy over their own life path.

And I am hopeful. While playing in the bath with her toys the other day, I heard my daughter announce: ‘I don’t eat animals, I rescue animals’.

I genuinely hope that my children’s generation experiences a richer connection with the non-human animal world, characterised by greater empathy, compassion and respect.

Notes:
* The American Dietetic Association is now known as the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. The Academy’s position has not changed.


Do you have a peer group of vegan parents to debrief with?

How do you survive non-vegan birthday parties?

How do you respond to comments that vegan parents are ‘unethical’ or ‘irresponsible’ for raising vegan children?

Ally

{Vegan Children} What should I tell my children about slaughterhouses?

This post is an extract of an article that I wrote in October 2009; it was published in the Dec 2009-Feb 2010 edition of Vegan Voice magazine.

When I wrote this article, my eldest child was 5, and my youngest (now 8 months) was just a twinkle in my eye!

‘Are there more meat eaters or vegans in the world’?

My daughter, 5,  posed this question recently. Oh, how I wish I could have answered ‘vegans, of course’!

She knows that some people eat chickens, cows and other non-human animals; that some people drink cows’ milk and eat eggs. But she has no idea of the scale of horrors that humanity inflicts on other beings. How could she? As an adult, I can barely comprehend it myself.

Like other vegans, I feel a great sense of sadness that billions of non-human animals suffer torment and misery at the hands of humans.

As a mother, it breaks my heart that my young children are growing up in a society that is largely indifferent to the suffering of non-human animals.

When I provided her with the irrefutable answer (‘meat eaters, unfortunately’), she asked the inevitable question: why?

My husband and I attempted to turn a complex issue in to a simple ‘5 year old’ answer, and still the explanation spanned many topics, such as history, culture, anthropology and politics.

Yet, the complexity of this question, and our attempt to answer it, paled in comparison to a question she asked me a few days later: how ‘food’ animals are killed. I was silent at first, weighing up whether to change the topic or lie to her. Instead, I provided her with the most toned down version I could manage without making it sound too innocuous and clinical. There was so much more that I could have said, but I couldn’t bring myself to do so.

I couldn’t tell her that the animals are filled with terror and fear as they watch their kin being killed, knowing that they are next. I couldn’t tell her that some animals are conscious when their throats are cut.

I feel sad that we live in a society where it is necessary for me to talk to my daughter about slaughterhouses and slit throats. Should I have lied, creating something more palatable for her sensitive, young ears? There is obviously a fine balance. I want my children to understand why their father and I have chosen veganism for our family, but I don’t want to burden them with distressing information that may traumatise them.

Parents of young vegan children can learn from the experience of Mary Eileen Finch. In her article, ‘Innocence Lost: Explaining Veganism to my Daughter’, Finch writes about the day that her 6 year old daughter Rebecca, a life vegan, discovered that some animals are a source of food for humans.

Rebecca was inadvertently exposed to a vegan pamphlet containing distressing photographs that her mother graphically describes as follows: ‘a butchered cow hang[s] from a hook with blood making a puddle on the floor… a sickly pig with a pus filled sore [lies] in his own filth while rats chew on his ears’. A sobbing Rebecca is incredulous ‘But why? Why would anyone want to eat them?’ She implores her mother, ‘Don’t they know it is hurting the animals?

Although Rebecca was aware that she ate different foods to most other people, no one had yet revealed to her that animals are raised for food. Finch laments, ‘I didn’t have the heart to tell an innocent child, someone who sheds tears over dead insects, that her beloved animal friends were potential meals’.

Conversely, Finch took a different approach with her son, Rebecca’s younger brother: ‘I began early on to mention to him that to some, animals are food. As a result he has never had a world shattering experience to upset him’.

I have avoided exposing my children to the types of images that Rebecca saw, as I fear that they would be distressed and horrified. I do not want them to see images of dismembered bodies when they close their eyes at night. This knowledge is a heavy burden for adult vegans to carry, undoubtedly the tiny minds of vegan children would be crushed under its weight.

Although I talk to my children about the health benefits of fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and whole grains, I make no secret of the fact that we have chosen veganism for our family predominantly for animal rights reasons.

In the article ‘Mummy, Why Don’t We Eat Meat’?, clinical psychologist Dr. Debbie Glasser argues that parents should ‘develop their own way of explaining veganism to their kids’, with a focus on ‘positive examples’ rather thanhorror stories’.

Glasser comments that ‘a very sensitive child might be easily overwhelmed by a detailed explanation of where hamburgers come from’. She also suggests that ‘it might be best to stick with simpler explanations unless your child probes for more information’. A simple explanation could include the following:  ‘it’s respectful to the animals we love’. She also advocates sharing your motivations with your children by, for example, telling them that you don’t want to eat animals.

When my daughter was 2 years old, her father and I began to talk to her about veganism in simplistic terms. We told her that we didn’t eat eggs because ‘the chickens don’t like it when we take their eggs’. We explained that beef, chicken, and other ‘meats’ were dead animals. We told her that mummy cows made milk for their own babies, not for people.

Naturally, she became aware that many of our family members and friends ate non-vegan foods. To explain this, we basically told her that people who eat animals and animal products do not know that the animals are unhappy with the way humans treat them. I didn’t have the heart to tell her otherwise.

She had a simple solution: Inform our family and friends that animals suffer and do not want to be eaten and, once equipped with this knowledge, they would all become vegans. Oh, if only it were that simple.

When my daughter questions me about veganism or animal rights issues I aim to be honest, within the boundary of an age-appropriate response. I tend to err on the side of brevity, and wait for her to ask further questions or seek clarification.

I am filled with apprehension at the thought of informing my children that many (most?) people are indifferent to the suffering of non-human animals.

When is the right time to tell my children that the deliberate killing of a lamb is not worthy of sorrow in our society? How should I reveal that dairy cows are robbed of their newborn calves because a capitalist economy prizes their milk not their sentience? How can I even begin to explain the motivations of people who shoot kangaroos and kill tiny joeys by stomping on their necks?  Why would I want to inflict this knowledge on young children?  I don’t know if I can help them to comprehend these horrors when I cannot even understand them myself.

My youngest child, 7 months, is blissfully ignorant to the horrors of the world. He loves a game or a song, and I revel in the fact that the world is a nurturing place for him, where he is loved and adored by his older siblings, parents and extended family. He squeals with excitement when he sees my parents’ large dog, eagerly crawling after him while attempting to engage with him.  One day, my son will learn about humanity’s despicable treatment of non-human animals, and that saddens me immensely. But for now, he explores the world with wonder in his eyes.

I use every opportunity I can to normalise veganism for my children. If we meet someone who is a vegan (or a vegetarian), I make a point of enthusiastically announcing the fact to my children.

Recently, we encountered vegan graffiti. The statement: ‘Don’t Eat Animals’ was written in black marker on the playground equipment that my kids were playing on. This was accompanied by a simple drawing of a pig’s face and the plea: ‘Don’t eat me’. I brought it to my daughter’s attention and read the words to her. Soon after, I saw her pointing it out to her (non-vegan) friend. She appeared to be quite animated and excited. I hope she realises that there are lots of people out there who believe that it is wrong to eat animals.

Maybe, not too far in the future, a 5 year old girl will ask her parents if there are more meat eaters or vegans in the world. And her parents will answer irrefutably ‘vegans!’……..

Well, one can have hope.

What have you told your vegan kids about the deaths of animals that are raised for food? Have you told them about slaughterhouses? Please share your experiences in the comments section.

{Vegan Children} Promoting vegan values to children.

I have been sharing my life with tiny vegans for 8 years. My daughter is the precious soul who transformed me into a parent and, more specifically, a vegan parent.

I am also a parent to three beautiful, home-birthed boys – aged 6, 3 and 8 months.

My parenting is influenced by a commitment to attachment parenting principles and an unwavering commitment to a vegan ethos.

I believe strongly that extended breastfeeding*  and the provision of vibrant and healthy plant-based foods is a vital facet of vegan parenting – ensuring that our tiny vegans reach their full physical and cognitive potential.

However, food is only the ‘tip of the iceberg’. Vegan parenting involves promoting a vegan philosophy to my children; instilling them with values that they will embrace and feel ownership of.

A concern that some vegan parents share is whether their children will commit to veganism in the long-term.

How can we assist our children to embrace vegan values in their daily lives? How can we  encourage them to maintain a commitment to vegan principles that extends beyond childhood?

What are ‘vegan values’?  

Each vegan parent will have a different answer to this question. Vegan values that we seek to promote include:

  • Compassion and empathy for human and non-human animals;
  • A recognition that non-human animals have a right to exist for their own purposes; they do not exist  for human use or amusement;
  • Non-human animals, and their products of reproduction and fertility (ie. eggs, lactation), are not sources of food for humans;
  • Food and sustenance produced by non-human animals for their own use and survival (eg. honey, in the case of bees) are not intended as sources of food for humans.

In order to promote these values to our children, Mat and I seek to do the following (in an age-appropriate context):

  • Actively teach and role-model a respect and reverence for non-human animals and the natural world;
  • Promote and encourage an interest in the diversity and beauty of life;
  • Participate in campaigns run by organisations that advocate for the rights of non-human animals;
  • Refrain from the use of language or expressions that denigrate non-human animals (eg. ‘She eats like a pig’.);
  • Teach our children about the interconnectedness of Earth’s inhabitants.

We have also chosen to enrol our  school-aged children in an independent school that promotes a Neo-humanist ethic.  One of the tenets of Neo-humanist education is: ‘to promote an awareness of ecology in its broader sense, that is, the realisation of the inter-relatedness of all things, and to encourage respect and care for all living beings’.**

Like many 3 year old children, my son is fascinated by spiders and insects. Mat and I nurture our son’s natural curiosity and interest, encouraging him to be gentle and considerate. These interactions provide an opportunity to educate him about the diversity of living beings, while fostering an empathy and compassion that is transferrable to other non-human animals, and humans. Today he fell in love with a dying christmas beetle that he found in our backyard.

Young children observe and emulate their parent’s behaviour and actions.  We are their earliest role models.  Before I had children, I often avoided mentioning my veganism to people. But now, I recognise that I am a role model for my children. I do not want them to feel that their veganism should be a secret. I am proud to be a vegan. I want them to be proud of the fact that they are not contributing to the suffering of non-human animals.

Obviously, Mat and I have chosen veganism for our children, much in the same way that some parents choose to raise their children with a Catholic or a Buddhist ethic.  Parents raise their own children in concert with their deeply held values and belief systems.  My children may choose not to embrace those values once they reach adolescence or adulthood. That is their right as autonomous beings.  Young people may rebel against the values of their parents – this is a perfectly normal and developmentally appropriate occurrence.

Parents of vegan children may find that this rebellion manifests itself in a rejection of vegan principles. However, as they mature, young people may reclaim the values and belief systems that their parents instilled in them, and this could lead to a reclaiming of veganism.

Naturally, there are young people who would never consider turning their back on veganism; they would not eat an animal any more than they would eat the leg of a table!

My children do not regard animals as food. My eldest children are aware that meat is a dead animal. They possess affection for animals, and have no desire to contribute to their suffering.  Do they feel as though they are missing out on anything? I don’t believe so.

We have vegetarian friends and vegan friends. My children’s aunty- my precious sister- is vegan. My kids attend a vegetarian school. We eat delicious food and treats. We have a beautiful circle of  non-vegan friends who are supportive of our veganism. We are truly blessed. It makes my heart sing that my daughter’s best friend is vegan!  Not eating animals is normal for my children.

Who knows what the future holds.

For now, I am enjoying the fact that my children are happy, healthy and happy to be vegan.

* By extended breastfeeding, I refer to breastfeeding a child up to 2 years of age and beyond.

** Quote obtained from the web site of my children’s primary school.

How do you promote vegan values to your children? Please share your experiences. I look forward to hearing from you!

Ally 

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