Article Originally submitted to Raise Vegan. Read how I explained what veganism was to my son.
My vegan journey started after attending the New England Vegfest and hearing James Aspey give one of the most compelling speeches I have heard. I had been vegetarian for a while but deep down in my heart, I knew I had to be vegan if I wanted my values to be in line with my actions. That evening I finally got the courage to watch Earthlings. It was the longest hour and 48 minutes of my life. My hands covered my tear-soaked face as I gasped in horror during the entire film. Although it was incredibly hard, I made myself watch it. I knew this film was not just a fictional horror movie, but a picture of what was happening every minute of every day all over the world. I cried, I screamed, and was full of shame for what was happening to these helpless animals.
The reason these animals were being needlessly murdered was simply because someone liked the taste of a burger, not because we actually needed to eat animal products to survive. It was then and there that I said out loud that I will never participate in this unnecessary abuse ever again. I didn’t care how hard it was going to be (which it isn’t) or how much criticism I would get from other people (which I don’t). I knew that this was the right thing to do.
When I became vegan, I filled myself with as much knowledge about veganism that I could. I had a lot of questions at first that I needed to find answers to. I was the first one in my family to become vegan. At dinnertime my son, James started asking questions about why I was eating something different to him and I explained that I was vegan and I didn’t want to hurt animals so that is why I don’t eat meat. His eyes opened so wide and I could see all of the questions filling this three-year-old mind. He then looked down at his plate and asked, “am I eating animals?” He then went on to say that he didn’t want to hurt animals anymore and didn’t want to eat them.
I did a lot of research to make sure it was nutritionally appropriate for a child so young to be on a vegan diet. Along with my research and the information I acquired during the T. Colin Campbell Plant-Based Nutrition certification course, I learned that a Whole Foods Plant-Based Diet is not only appropriate but is a wonderful way to raise your children in a healthy way.
In my experience, it helped that I let my son naturally come to the conclusion that eating animals is wrong. I truly believe that if children were given the choice, they’d instinctively decide not to eat animals. I found that explaining veganism to a child is much easier than explaining it to an adult. It is not until food industries, our society and clever marketing strip us of our connection to animals and we start living in a state of unconsciousness. Over the course of a few weeks me, my husband and son were all proud vegans.
Every day can provide a lesson about compassion. Teachable moments are always popping up and it opens up the opportunity to talk to James about veganism and why we are vegan. I find that books are a great place for teaching. When we are reading his Richard Scarry books and the pig is serving up meat (including pork) at the butchers, we talk about that. We talk about how the pig must feel and what they are really serving. I explain that although this is the way things are now, doesn’t mean it’s right and doesn’t mean we can’t do something about it.
For Christmas this year my husband and I bought James the “We Don’t Eat Animals” book collection by author Ruby Roth. He loves the stories in the books and can relate to them. When we read them at night I always ask him questions to gauge how he is feeling and answer any questions that come up.
Instead of going to the zoo, aquarium or circus we can go to things like Cirque du Solei, animal sanctuaries or on adventure hikes through the forest. At birthday parties I always make sure to bring him special cake that I bake for him to bring. This is quite common these days anyway because of so many children having allergies. Once I explain to him that while we may do things a little different than his friends it doesn’t mean we can’t have fun too. He never has to feel like he is missing out on food or experiences because of all of the wonderful alternatives there are these days.
Since James was born, it was crucial to me to teach him that there is nothing more important than kindness, empathy and compassion. Raising him as a vegan is a large part of this. He became an activist in his classroom and talks to his classmates on why he chooses not to eat animal products. My proudest moment was on a Saturday afternoon. James adamantly walked into the kitchen where my husband and I were talking and he exclaimed in his little three-year-old voice: “I am never, ever, ever eating ‘ammimals’ ever again! It is so rude!” He spoke with so much conviction, more than most adults. My heart sang for him.
Of course there have been testing times too. One day James came home from school begging to go to McDonald’s. His friends at school were talking about going to eat there and getting a happy meal. James started to tear up and said that he didn’t want to be vegan anymore and that he wanted to go to McDonald’s too. As a parent it’s hard to see your child be in moments of conflict but I always try to talk it through with him. I finally got to the bottom of what really was going on and it’s wasn’t about the food at all. It was about him wanting to get a toy. I then explained all of the other options we had and all of the other fun things we can do instead.
Peer pressure can be a challenge for anyone, especially young children, however I think that James will be equipped with the tools to be a critical thinker and to speak from his heart and be able to influence others in a kind and compassionate way. I always keep the lines of communication open and answer his questions open and honestly in the most age-appropriate way. As he grows I am excited to share this experience with him and work together as a family to make the world a more peaceful place.