{Vegan MoFo} A nut-free, gluten-free lunchbox for a vegan pre-schooler

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My kids are on school holidays at the moment, which means a reprieve from packing lunchboxes.

However, that does not mean you will have a reprieve from hearing about lunchboxes. 🙂

Recently, I featured the lunchboxes of my school-aged kids.

Today, I show you the lunch of 4-year-old Tiny Vegan, who attends a pre-school with a ‘nut-free’ policy.

On Friday, his packed lunch consisted of the following:

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A small bowl of pasta salad – gluten-free spirals, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, carrot, celery, red capsicum (bell pepper), freshly picked parsley leaves, and a smidgen of soy mayonnaise.

Strawberries; cucumber and carrot sticks; homemade hommus; chickpeas roasted in vegan worcestershire sauce; goji berries; coconut flakes; sunflower seeds and a bottle of water.

Each child also brings a separate container of cut-up fruit to share with the other children at morning tea. At this time of year, we usually pack orange segments, mandarin segments or strawberries.

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Tiny Vegan’s Verdict

So, what returned home in the afternoon?

A few chickpeas, a few sunflower seeds, a couple of goji berries, a coconut flake or two, a smidgen of hommus, and a segment of the parsley sprig.

I think that’s a ‘thumbs up’. 🙂

***

Check-out my other post on vegan lunchboxes here.

For more vegan pre-school lunchbox inspiration, visit my friend Sarah’s blog Play.Love.Vegan (click here). She is a mum of two tiny vegans, including a pre-schooler. Her lunchboxes are works of art.

Ally

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 

{Recipe} Carrot and Coriander Quinoa Balls

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In all honesty, I am not a fan of quinoa.

I realise that this is not the sort of statement that should introduce a recipe that contains quinoa! However, it’s the truth. I find the bitter taste of quinoa’s natural coating, saponin, off-putting.

Recently, I decided to give quinoa a second chance.

Carrot and Coriander Quinoa Balls were created after a fortuitous mishap in the kitchen!

I had read that soaking quinoa removes its bitterness.

So, I soaked one cup of quinoa overnight, then rinsed it four or five times. As it had swollen to about double its original size, I was unsure of how much water to use to cook it. Once the quinoa was cooked, it was obvious that I had used too much water. I had produced gluggy quinoa! There would be no light and fluffy quinoa to mix with salad vegetables and a dressing.

Then inspiration hit! I could transform the glug into balls with some vegies, and pan-fry them. The experiment was a success! No bitterness was evident. Quinoa, all is forgiven. 🙂

After several ‘experiments’, I settled on a ratio of ingredients. I also determined that oven baking is my preferred method of cooking this recipe. Pan-frying requires my constant attention – gently turning the balls to cook them all over.

By all means, if you want to try pan-fried quinoa balls, go ahead. I use a non-stick fry pan (skillet), lightly smeared with olive oil. They take about 25 minutes to cook (on a low-medium heat).

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Carrot and Coriander Quinoa Balls

Makes 19 balls

Ingredients

1/2 cup organic quinoa (I use multi-coloured quinoa, which is a combination of red, black and white quinoa) – soaked for at least 3 hours (or overnight)

1 cup water

1/2 tsp vegetable stock powder

1/4 cup (loosely packed) finely grated carrot

1 Tbsp finely chopped coriander (cilantro) leaves

1 Tbsp finely chopped shallots (green onions), white and green sections

1/2 Tbsp olive oil (optional)

Method

1. Soak the quinoa first: Pour the quinoa into a large bowl and cover with water. Soak for at least 3 hours. The quinoa will expand to almost double the original quantity, and the water will be very cloudy. Pour the cloudy water out, and add fresh water. Swish the quinoa around with your fingers. This water will become cloudy too. Pour it out, and add fresh water again. Repeat the rinsing process 3 or 4 times, with fresh water, until it is no longer cloudy. Ensure that you drain away all of the water. You do not want to add any of the rinse water to the saucepan with the quinoa. Use a sieve if you need to.

2. Put quinoa into a medium-sized  saucepan. Add 1 cup of water. Cover saucepan, and bring water to the boil.

3. When water is boiling, add stock powder and stir well. Cover the saucepan, and simmer on a low heat for 25 minutes, until all water is absorbed. Remove saucepan from the heat, and leave covered for 10 mins.

4. Add cooked quinoa to a large mixing bowl. Add carrot, coriander and shallots. Mix well.

5. Line a baking tray with baking paper.

6. Measure out a metric tablespoon of mixture. Form into a ball, rolling it between your palms. Repeat with the remainder of the mixture. Place all of the quinoa balls onto the tray, and drizzle with olive oil.

7. Bake for 20-25 mins in a pre-heated oven (160C/320F, fan-force oven). (At the 15 minute mark, remove the tray from the oven and turn the balls over, using tongs. Return tray to the oven for 5-10 minutes.)

8. Serve immediately with sweet chilli sauce.

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Pan-fried quinoa balls

Other combinations of herbs or vegetables would be delicious too: parsley or basil, corn kernels or finely diced capsicum (bell pepper). However, stick to the ratio of ingredients specified in the recipe to ensure that the balls maintain good structure. 🙂

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Great finger food for toddlers.

***

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Yummy with sweet chilli sauce.

***

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The Tiny Vegans’ Verdicts

This recipe is a winner with the Tiny Vegans. All of them!  From the tiniest to the biggest.  They enjoy quinoa balls hot or cold, with sweet chilli sauce.

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Oven-baked quinoa balls, ready for a picnic.

A note about soaking: My friend Sarah assures me that a thorough rinsing of quinoa removes its bitter taste, and that soaking isn’t required. I haven’t tried this yet. If you decide not to soak the quinoa when making this recipe, you will need to add more than the recommended quantity of two parts water to one part quinoa. Or you will end up with nice, fluffy quinoa suitable for adding to a salad, rather than the ‘glug’ that this recipe requires.

***

Are you a fan of quinoa? If so, what is your favourite quinoa recipe?

Every Monday, I feature a delicious vegan recipe that is enjoyed by my own family – I hope your family enjoys it too!

Ally

Linking up with Healthy Vegan Fridays.

{Recipe} Tempeh and Potato Curry with Spiced Brown Rice

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This curry features tempeh, white potatoes, basil leaves, garlic, tamari, coconut cream, and curry powder. It isn’t vibrantly colourful or photogenic like last week’s recipe –Rainbow Salad – but I believe it is just as delicious.

The quantity of curry powder listed in the recipe achieves a ‘kid-friendly’ spice level. By all means, up the ante if you prefer a spicier curry (like I do!).

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If you don’t like tempeh, use firm tofu instead (read on to discover why I should have taken this ‘advice’). Seitan-lovers may prefer to use seitan in place of tempeh.

You could use diced carrots instead of cauliflower – carrots would certainly add some colour to the dish. (We are the proud recipients of two whole cauliflowers, so considerations of colour and visual appeal took a ‘backseat’ to that reality when preparing this meal.) Purple cabbage would be a good substitute for green – it is certainly more visually pleasing.

I have included a recipe for Spiced Brown Rice. This rice is subtly flavoured with cardamon, cinnamon and a bay leaf. Ground turmeric gives the rice a light yellow tone.

***

Tempeh and Potato Curry

Serves 5 – 6

Ingredients

500g/17oz organic tempeh, cubed (I use Nutrisoy brand)

2 cups cubed white potatoes (I leave the skin on)

1 cup finely shredded green cabbage

1/2 cup small cauliflower florets

1 large onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1/2 cup basil leaves, roughly chopped or torn

1 1/2 Tbsp curry powder (I used a Sri Lankan dark roasted curry powder)

1/2 tsp turmeric (if your curry powder does not contain turmeric)

1 tsp sugar

2 Tbsp tamari or soy sauce

400ml/13.5 fl oz coconut cream or coconut milk

3/4 cup water + 1/4 tsp vegetable stock powder OR 3/4 cup vegetable stock

1 tsp olive oil (optional)

Method

1. Pre-heat oven to 200 C/392 F (fan-force oven).

2. Add potato to a mixing bowl, and drizzle olive oil over the potato. Mix well, then spread potato on a lined baking tray. Bake for 25 minutes (rotate tray after 15 mins.)

3. While potato is baking, heat a non-stick fry pan or skillet. Cook tempeh until it is browned on all sides. (I use my non-stick ‘cafe style’ sandwich press for this step.)

4. Once tempeh and potatoes are cooked, set them aside. Heat a large saucepan on a medium heat, and add 2 tablespoons of water. Add chopped onions and saute for about 5 minutes. Add more water, a tablespoon at a time, if the onions begin to stick to the pan.

5. Add the garlic, curry powder and turmeric. Mix well, and cook for 1 minute on a low heat.

6. Add cabbage and cauliflower and mix well to coat the vegetables. Then add water, stock powder, coconut cream, tamari, and sugar. Mix well. Cover saucepan and, on a medium heat, bring liquid to a boil. Then turn heat to low and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally during this time.

7. Add the potato, tempeh and basil. Stir, then simmer on a low heat, uncovered, for 5 mins.

8. Garnish with basil leaves (I had run out, so I used coriander), and serve with rice and lightly-steamed broccoli.

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***

Spiced Brown Rice

Serves 5 – 6

Ingredients

1 1/2 cups brown rice

3 cups water

5 cardamon pods

1 bay leaf

1/4 tsp ground turmeric

1/4 tsp salt

1/8 tsp ground cinnamon

granulated peanuts or flaked almonds for garnish

1. Wash the rice first. I do this by adding it to a saucepan, and covering it with water. I use my hands to ‘swish’ the grains around. Remove any visible husks or matter that floats to the surface of the water. Pour the water out of the saucepan, being careful that the grains don’t flow down the sink with it! (use a sieve or colander if you need to).

2. Add 3 cups of water to the rice. Add bay leaf, cardamon pods, turmeric, salt, and cinnamon. Stir. Put saucepan on a medium heat, cover, and bring water to the boil. Then, simmer on a very low heat until all of the water has been absorbed (about 40 minutes, maybe more). Remove saucepan from heat, and keep covered for about 10 mins.

3. Remove bay leaf and cardamon pods. Fluff rice with a fork.

4. Transfer to a serving bowl and sprinkle with granulated peanuts or flaked almonds.

***

The Tiny Vegans’ Verdicts ( or, ‘why I should have used tofu’)…

The initial reaction to this meal was an ominous sign of things to come.

As I was preparing dinner, 6 year-old Tiny Vegan sauntered by, observed my food preparation in action, halted in his tracks and requested:

‘Can I have mine without tempeh’?

He didn’t always feel this way about tempeh. When he was a toddler, he enjoyed eating thinly sliced, lightly-browned, plain tempeh. Well, clearly, those days are gone!

So, for dinner, I served him a bowl containing rice, potatoes, cauliflower, cabbage and broccoli, covered in the sauce.  He ate that quite happily. Phew! 

Meanwhile, 4-year-old Tiny Vegan announced that he hated it. Yep! I believe the phrase: ‘I hate it’, was uttered at least 3 times.

OK, I think I am beginning to recall why I haven’t bought tempeh in ages. It isn’t solely due to the fact that our local supermarkets are sporadic in stocking it.

Little Baker even refused to eat it! He usually has a hearty appetite. He crawled up onto my lap, seeking a breastfeed.

My daughter, our heartiest of hearty eaters, ate in silence. When I asked if she was enjoying the meal, I detected a slight shoulder shrug. Then, in a burst of diplomacy fit for a UN peacekeeper, she uttered: ‘I like tempeh but I’m not a fan’. Diplomatic, but somewhat confusing! I have interpreted her words as meaning: ‘I’m not keen on this meal Mum, but I don’t want to hurt your feelings’. She did say that she really liked the sauce. This declaration had a ring of absolute truth to it.

***

Mat and I, on the other hand, thoroughly enjoyed our meal. I suppose it helps that we both like tempeh. Sadly, our offspring have not followed in our footsteps.

So, I leave it to you, dear reader. Which opinion holds more weight in your eyes? Do you relate to the Tiny Vegans’ disdain for tempeh? Or do you agree with the pro-tempeh viewpoint of the Parents of Tiny Vegans? 🙂

***

Made of Stars is now on Facebook. Click here to ‘like’ our page.

Every Monday, I (aim to) feature a delicious vegan recipe that is enjoyed by my own family – I hope your family enjoys it too!

Ally

{Interview} Why Vegan?

Readers of Made of Stars know that I have been an ethical vegan for 17 years, and that Mat and I are raising tiny vegans.

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I had the opportunity to reflect on my journey to veganism when Joanna of Green Reset interviewed me for the Why Vegan section of  her blog.

Click here to read my interview.

Also, I recommend reading Joanna’s interview with Sergei Boutenko – especially if you enjoy green smoothies. You will find Sergei’s interview here.

I extend my gratitude to Joanna for featuring my vegan journey on Green Reset. Thank you Joanna 🙂

Ally

{Recipe} Cucumber and Nori Cups

I was inspired to create Cucumber and Nori Cups after seeing a recipe called Cucumber Cups in the Veggieful e-book, Vegan Party Food. With beautiful photographs and scrumptious recipes, this e-book is a bargain at only $2.95.

I wanted to make an after school snack for my kids that fit the following criteria: healthy, visually appealing, simple to prepare, and not requiring cooking.

I was planning to make Cucumber and Nut Cheese Bites (using hommus instead of nut cheese) when I remembered the Cucumber Cups I had seen in Vegan Party Food. Veggieful’s Cucumber Cups are packed with satay tofu. I am yet to make them, but they look truly delectable.

I packed my cucumber cups with ingredients that were available in my kitchen. Then I wrapped them in strips of nori (seaweed).

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Ingredients

Continental (telegraph) Cucumber

hommus

grated carrot

chopped pineapple

cubed beetroot

raw cashews 

sesame seeds

poppy seeds

raw cashews

nori sheet

Method

1. Cut the cucumber into 3 cm pieces (approximately). Obviously, the length of your cucumber will determine the number of cups. Use more than one cucumber if you want to make a larger quantity.

2. Scoop out some of the flesh using a teaspoon:

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3. Add a dollop of hommus to each cup. Add the grated carrot. Then add pineapple, beetroot, and cashews. Sprinkle some cups with poppy seeds, and some with sesame seeds.

4. Cut thin strips from a sheet of nori. Wrap each strip snuggly around the cups, then moisten the end with water to ‘stick’ it down.

5. Serve.

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This is a very ‘flexible’ recipe. You can use a different combination of vegetables, fruits, and nuts. Use nut cheese, nut butter, vegan cream cheese, or other dips instead of hommus. You can omit the nori.

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This recipe need never be the same each time you make it. Be guided by the ingredients in your kitchen.

A tip: If you don’t use hommus, use a ‘thick’ dip. A runny dip will spill over the sides when you add the rest of the ingredients. Yes, it happened to me. 🙂

What is your favourite party food? 

Each Monday, I feature a delicious vegan recipe that is enjoyed by my family. I hope your family enjoys it too.

Sharing this recipe with Healthy Vegan Fridays.

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.
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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 than ‘horror 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.

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