I envy vegans who are firmly grounded in their beliefs before they have children. For me, it was a gradual journey. I’d been on and off vegetarian for 15 years and occasionally vegan during this time. After finally finding some important and eye-opening research, I fully transitioned to being vegan and started feeling fabulous.
The only complication for me was that I already had children once I came to this conclusion. My son was still nursing so his nutrition wasn’t something that concerned me too much. He was also too young to need an explanation from me. My daughter, on the other hand, was a different story. She had been raised an omnivore. Luckily, we didn’t eat meat or dairy too often; quite rarely, in fact, so I didn’t think she’d mind giving it up.
Once I had made the decision that being vegan was best for our family, I still wasn’t quite ready to have “the talk” with my then six-year-old daughter. I naively thought we could happily be vegan and she’d never really think anything of it since we rarely ate meat. I didn’t really know what to say to her. I felt strong in my convictions, but I was concerned with giving her too much information that might scare her or make her feel guilty for eating meat in the past or wanting to eat it again. I didn’t want to create any issues regarding food. I also didn’t want to make her think what other people were doing was wrong just because I thought what we were doing was right. I didn’t want her to preach to her friends and therefore cause the other parents to keep their kids from hanging out with her. I happen to really like all of our friends and think they’re amazing parents and I also feel that just as I’d want them to respect my choices, we have to respect the choices they’ve made for themselves. Also, if I were to be really honest with myself, there was a part of me that worried I’d change my mind. I had changed my mind in the past and what if I did it again? I’d really scar my daughter if I told her the horrors of eating meat only go back to it if something convinced me it was important for my family’s health to eat meat again. I needed to know I was 100 percent committed before I started preaching to my daughter. So I decided to just not go there, for now.
What I hadn’t anticipated was my daughter being offered chicken nuggets in the park. We were having a fun afternoon at the school playground when my daughter came running over telling me she had eaten chicken nuggets offered by a friend’s mother. She was so excited by it. I stood there not knowing what to say. The family was being generous and certainly meant no harm. The mother just wanted to include my daughter in the food she had brought for her kids to have as a snack. I had never made my dietary wishes public so she had no way of knowing. I, however, was devastated. I couldn’t believe my daughter had happily eaten chicken! I realized I was being completely irrational since I had never made my decision known to anyone outside my family, or specifically expressed my wishes to my own daughter. At the same time, I felt disappointed and slightly threatened that my daughter actually enjoyed eating meat and might want to continue.
So of course, I did the only thing I could do at the time: I had my husband go to Fairway and buy every over-processed meat and dairy replacement he could find, so that I’d be able to show my kids how yummy it was to be vegan. That night, lots of Purely Decadent Cookie Dough ice cream was served for dessert. The kids loved it! My husband and I later discussed it and we both decided that the time had come to talk to them. We were both convinced this was the right path for our family. At this point I had read everything available that pointed to eating a plant-based diet as the best thing for the environment, the animals and most importantly, our health. I started off showing my daughter the Jamie Oliver video where he shows school children how to make chicken nuggets. I figured if I just disgusted her enough, she’d never want to eat them again. She was slightly grossed out but I wasn’t sure if she’d actually sworn off eating meat – and she still said the chicken nuggets had tasted good. I really wanted this to be something that she decided was best on her own even though I ultimately knew I’d be the one that controls her food decisions. I wanted her to be happy not eating meat. At that point, I also began telling her all the reasons I didn’t eat meat; and she seemed receptive, but wasn’t actually saying whether she agreed or disagreed. I found a book called “That’s Why We Don’t Eat Animals: A Book About Vegans, Vegetarians, and All Living Things.” It’s a beautiful book that gives just the right amount of information without being overwhelming. It has beautiful illustrations showing animals doing things that make them happy and then illustrations that show them in situations that make them sad. Because of the fact that they’re illustrations, I think it’s less harsh in the eyes of children, but still gets the point across. Thankfully, this book really spoke to her! She immediately agreed with me that we shouldn’t eat animals. I was a very proud mommy that day.
There were a few occasions in the first year when we were at an event and there wasn’t much to eat besides meat. She asked me what to do and I always told her that I personally wouldn’t eat it, but that she could make her own decision. A few times she tried a tiny bite of meat and after one bite said it was disgusting. Now she doesn’t even try it.
As for the mother at the playground, I ended up making a phone call to her and gently (I hope) explained the situation. She was very understanding and she said that she wouldn’t offer my daughter meat again. It felt good to let people know my beliefs and feel supported.
It’s been about 3 ½ years since we had the conversation and around 4 years since we officially gave up meat, and I have to say it’s a been a really fun journey with kids. They occasionally will say some things that shock even me! My six and 1/2-year-old knows a lot of information for a child his age. Having an older sibling gave him an early education. I occasionally have to reign them in – like when I run into Chirpin Chicken to use the restroom and my son starts shouting “We’re not here to buy anything because we don’t eat meat!” or my daughter says “Why do they call it Chirpin Chicken when none of the chickens are chirping?”
Also in Family: Teaching Beauty to Children
Photo: Quinn Dombrowski